GLENDALE, Ariz. — North Carolina starting point guard Joel Berry cleared up the biggest question of the week for Tar Heel fans as his team finished up preparations for Saturday’s national semi-finals against Oregon.
Yes, he will play.
Berry told the media he is feeling close to 85 percent after suffering two sprained ankles during the NCAA tournament and should be close to 100 percent by tip off.
“I just keep telling myself there’s only four more days left in the season,” he said. “I’m going to give it my all and do whatever it takes to get my body right.”
Berry– Carolina’s second leading scorer– injured his right ankle in Carolina’s first round game against Texas Southern, then shot a miserable 2 for 13 in a second round thriller against Arkansas. After scoring 26 points in a South region semi-final win against Butler in Memphis, Berry injured his left ankle in an Elite Eight victory over Kentucky and missed a four minute stretch while getting treatment in the locker room. He said the pain was so bad after the game, if North Carolina had another game the next, he would not be able to play.
“Right now it feels a lot better than what it was,” Berry said. “That’s always a good thing.”
Junior forward Justin Jackson figured all along that his teammate simply needed some rest time and would be on the court no matter what against Oregon. That’s why he had no trouble poking a little fun at Berry on Friday. “I don’t think we ever had a thought in our mind that he wasn’t going to play,” Jackson said. “Plus, I feel like he’s had an off day the last three days so …”
The final part of that comment drew laughs from coach Roy Williams and junior wing Theo Pinson, who interrupted by saying, “He better play!”
“If he can’t play, there’s definitely something more wrong,” Jackson continued. “It does give us more confidence to know he’ll be out there with us.”
How effective Berry can play is to be yet to be determined.
North Carolina, if healthy, is the favorite to win its sixth national championship, in large part because of their front court size and experience from last year’s Final Four.The Tar Heels have been waiting for almost a year for redemption after Villanova forward Kris Jenkins broke their hearts by draining a buzzer beater in the national championship game.
“That was our ultimate goal, to win the championship,” senior forward Isaiah Hicks said. “We were four seconds away from tht. Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you, that’s all the motivation you need. Of course, nobody likes to lose, but that, one, when you’re right there, all of us, we just a second chance.”