For North Carolina to advance, the second-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels will need to make a significant improvement from its second-half showing almost three years ago against a similar Gonzaga team when the two meet on Friday in Memphis in the round of 16 in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
This time UNC and fourth-seeded and 10th-ranked Gonzaga are scheduled to tip off at approximately 9:57 p.m., which follows the opening game between second-seeded Oklahoma and third-seeded Syracuse.
In the earlier game, the Bulldogs shot 57 percent and held UNC to 30-percent shooting in the final 20 minutes of an 82-74 victory at Madison Square Garden in New York in the Preseason NIT. The two played in November of 2006.
"The relevance is a lot of the same characters played that will be in this one," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "There are a lot of the same guys. They look different, but it's the same characters."
Tyler Hansbrough is one of those characters who played. He was named the national player in 2008, but he had horrible offensive showing against the Bulldogs. Hansbrough, now a senior, went 2-of-5 from the field and scored nine points that evening. He did grab nine rebounds, second to Brandon Wright's team-high 13.
"I remember how tough of a team they were," Hansbrough said. "They came after us right out of the gate. John Heytvelt had a really good game against us."
Heytvelt scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and received a lot of credit for the defensive effort on Hansbrough because Heytvelt had four blocks.
"Josh had a nice game," Few said. "I don't think it was everything everybody has cracked it up to be. David Pendergraft and [Abdullahi] Kuso were the ones guarding Tyler Hansbrough. Josh was able to come over on several occasions and block his shot, coming from the help side, which is what he's great at. Josh played good. He rebounded and made some shots."
The one player who had a worse game for Carolina than Hansbrough that evening was then-freshman shooting guard Wayne Ellington, who has developed into an entirely different player from that first season.
Ellington leads the Tar Heels in scoring in two NCAA Tournament games this year, averaging 24 points. He has made 20 of 32 field goals, good for a 62-percent shooting percentage. He made 6 of 11 three-point tries in those first two games.
"Wayne's confidence is really up," Hansbrough said. "He's hitting a lot of shots from outside. He's also getting some penetration game in there. What you're seeing now is his penetration and getting more aggressive. He's getting some rebounds."
Ty Lawson played that night as well. He had one assist and two turnovers to go with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He was far different in the Tar Heels' game against LSU last Saturday. Lawson, coming off a toe injury that forced him to miss three games, scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half and put on a spectacular showing.
"Ty being healthy makes everybody else a little better," Coach Roy Williams said.
UNC is going to need Lawson to shine, given Gonzaga is 20-1 since losing at Utah on New Year's Eve. Carolina has changed for the better since that first game between the two, but so has Gonzaga.
"They're a great team," Ellington said. "They have a lot of talent on their team, and we lost to them. We're looking forward to the challenge. We have a bad taste from the last time we played Gonzaga. We owe them.
"I know they kicked our butts. They give it to us pretty good. That was my first loss as a Carolina player. It didn't feel too good. We all remember that day and are looking forward to getting back."