Wayne Ellington Sparks Tar Heels' Long-Range Barrage

Capture the action from the opening round to the national title game.
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009

DETROIT, April 4 -- Slim, red bags underlined the eyes of North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington. He can't really explain them, he says. They're not due to lack of sleep or any sort of allergic reaction. The bags just pop up any time the adrenaline starts pumping.

Following a standout performance Saturday night in North Carolina's 83-69 win over Villanova in the national semifinals, the skin underneath Ellington's eyes appeared irritated yet again. His mood, however, was much more buoyant.

"It felt great," Ellington said after making 5 of 7 three-point attempts and tallying 20 points. "It felt like I was in the gym working out against these guys back home. You know, I see all these guys in the summertime, so it was a lot of fun."

Ellington wasn't the only Tar Heel enjoying himself from beyond the arc Saturday night. North Carolina made 11 of its 22 three-point shots and used such accuracy to quell any Wildcats uprisings.

The barrage began early in the first half, when North Carolina extended its lead quickly thanks in part to its long-range shooting. By the time Ellington sank his second shot from beyond the arc just more than eight minutes into the game, the Tar Heels were up by 14.

Ellington continued to strike, and his teammates acknowledged the resulting ripple effect.

"He's been on a tear ever since the end of the ACC season," North Carolina forward Deon Thompson said. "He's been just playing so well, and it helps our team. It seems like it's almost contagious, like it's rubbing off on Danny [Green]. When we got Danny doing that too, man, it's hard to beat us."

Green and Ellington, along with point guard Ty Lawson, entered their names into the NBA draft last spring. But after being evaluated by pro scouts at a few workouts, the trio returned to Chapel Hill in hopes of playing for a national title -- the prize their efforts afforded them Saturday night.

All 12 of Green's points came from beyond the arc, from where he shot 4 for 10. Lawson sank two of four three-point attempts and finished with a game-high 22 points.

"It's very rare where you find a night where we're both hitting shots," Green said. "But we're fortunate enough to have a couple shooters where if one of 'em is off, the other one might be hitting shots. Tonight, we had a lot of us hitting some outside shots, which was good for us. Hopefully, it will carry over to the next game."

Thompson said the Tar Heels were warned by the coaching staff at halftime about the perils of letting up, of concerning themselves too much with the next game.

But North Carolina persisted in its attempt to shatter Villanova's will following the intermission, and it did so behind timely three-point shots.

With just less than seven minutes remaining, Ellington dribbled to his left, pump-faked and then fired from beyond the arc.

"At first when he did it I thought it was a bad shot," Thompson said. "But then it went in and I was happy. . . . When Wayne is clicking like that, he is so talented and so good and he's so valuable to this team when he's able to do that. And I think he did get some rebounds in there, too, which helped. So it's not just his scoring. He's playing an all-around game."

Indeed, Ellington also chipped in nine rebounds and four assists. In the national title game against Michigan State on Monday night, Ellington will hope his hot hand continues to be transmittable.

"I think we just felt good from the perimeter -- Danny, myself and Ty," Ellington said. "You know, we were just seeing a big rim and luckily they went in for us."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company