North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough speaks at the men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday.
North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough speaks at the men’s Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament Thursday.

DETROIT — Tyler Hansbrough never wanted to dwell on the pressure to lead North Carolina to a national championship. He tried to ignore the expectations to raise his level of play despite being last season’s national player of the year.

Though he insists he came back for his senior season because he enjoyed college life and wanted his diploma, there’s no denying he desperately wanted another shot at a title.

Now he’s back in the Final Four, the final weekend of a college career in which he has gone from always heralded to often criticized — and maybe a little unappreciated — by the same people who have demanded so much from him.

No matter how many times he says it, Hansbrough knows all anybody wants to talk about before Saturday’s national semifinal against Villanova is the missing line on his resume.

Coming out of Detroit with a championship trophy could be the difference between being viewed as an individual player who set numerous records yet fell short of the ultimate goal and one of the college game’s all-time greats.

“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure just because a lot of people would say it would be a failure to come back if you didn’t win a national championship,” he said Thursday. “But I didn’t come back just to win a national championship.”

He set the Atlantic Coast Conference’s career scoring record in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Also this year, he broke both the scoring and rebounding record for the storied North Carolina program by passing big names such as Phil Ford and Sam Perkins, respectively.

He has led the Tar Heels (32-4) to three straight ACC regular-season championships, won back-to-back league tournament titles as a sophomore and junior, and got North Carolina to the Final Four last year.

He led the ACC in scoring for a second straight year at nearly 21 points and had 11 double-doubles.

“Someone does things at a certain level, unless we’re reminded, we kind of take him for granted,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said.

Villanova coach Jay Wright, who will have to devise a way to slow Hansbrough on Saturday, felt the same way.

“It’s almost like he’s become underappreciated,” Wright said. “He’s really become taken for granted by the country and the media. But I’m sure not by their team. He’s just done it the same way for so long. You count on him for a double-double, he’s going to make his free throws. But we’re not losing his importance to that team.”