GLENDALE, Ariz. — Roy Williams said he would not allow junior guard Joel Berry II to play for North Carolina in Saturday’s national semifinal against Oregon unless he could practice full court before the game. On Friday, Berry satisfied that requirement.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Berry, who sprained his left ankle in last weekend’s Elite Eight win over Kentucky, a day after he aggravated a previous injury to his right ankle in practice. “I was able to get through a whole practice [Friday] and I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
Rather than sweat Berry’s availability, his teammates have been riding him about his time off. He was limited and did not participate in full-court activities in Thursday’s practice.
“I don’t think we ever had a thought in our mind that he wasn’t going to play,” junior forward Justin Jackson said Friday. “[That’s] the type of competitor that he is and this type of stage. Plus I feel like he’s had an off day the past three days in a row.”
Chimed junior forward Theo Pinson: “He better play!”
Williams shook his head.
“Put him out in the street, him taking three days off,” the coach said.
Berry said having the late game Saturday will allow him to progress further with his treatments.
“I’m about 85 percent,” he said Friday, “and [Saturday], with the rehab I’ll have during the day, I feel like I’ll be better than ever.”
Thornwell on mend
Sindarius Thornwell was on the court with his South Carolina teammates Friday. Which is where he belongs.
The senior guard was unable to participate in Thursday’s practice because of illness. Coach Frank Martin said he wanted Thornwell to spend another day in bed, but Thornwell threatened to fight him if he was not allowed to participate in the workout.
“I’m fine now,” Thornwell said. “I was going to play regardless. Nothing was going to stop me from playing.”
North Carolina players said their strategy against Oregon shot-blocker Jordan Bell is to get him in foul trouble. “He bids for almost every shot that he thinks he can get to,” junior forward Justin Jackson said. “Pump fakes might be involved. There might be drop-offs involved. And at other times, you have to go straight into his chest . . . When he’s not on the court it’s way easier to play” . . . This is the first Final Four in nine years to feature a team from the Pacific time zone and the first Final Four ever with two teams from that time zone.