Big story in Carolina: Ty Lawson's toe
Tar Heels guard will play against Gonzaga, but coach Roy Williams says he doesn't expect Lawson to be "100 percent."
Seattle Times staff reporter
For the past three weeks, much of the Tar Heel State has been obsessed with a toe.
It belongs to Ty Lawson, the North Carolina point guard, who says he'll be ready to go Friday night when Gonzaga meets UNC in a Sweet 16 game in Memphis.
"It's getting better," Lawson said on a teleconference. "I'm walking better. I think I'll be able to play a regular game."
The mercurial Lawson jammed his big right toe near the end of the regular season, missed the ACC tournament and Carolina's NCAA opening-round game against Radford. He came back against LSU in the second round, looked rusty in the first half, and then broke loose for 21 second-half points in what coach Roy Williams called Tuesday a performance "about as good as I've seen in 21 years as a head coach."
Lawson had a first-half scare, when he felt a pop in the toe and left in pain. But it subsided and he returned to play the key role in Carolina's 84-70 victory.
"I always knew I could play through pain," Lawson said. "A lot of people didn't think that."
Williams said Lawson took part in a light shooting practice Monday, and Lawson conceded, "I was running a little bit slower than everybody else."
Williams said Lawson told him it was "a little more sore than it was on game day. I don't think he's 100 percent and I don't think he's going to be 100 percent. We'll take what we get."
In a basketball-crazed state, Lawson's toe has been a steady topic of conversation.
"I thought it was ridiculous," said center Tyler Hansbrough. "People come and ask me how his toe feels. It's his toe."
Williams said he bumped into a couple of North Carolina football coaches, who told him the injury "is like turf toe in football. It takes forever [to heal]."
They told Williams the best thing would be six weeks off for Lawson. Referring to the likelihood that North Carolina wouldn't last in the tournament without him, Williams joked, "I told them that would really help my golf game."
One of the hottest Heels is off-guard Wayne Ellington, whose 23 points against LSU gives him three consecutive 20-plus games for the first time in his three-year college career.
In his past six games, Ellington, who had struggled earlier, is shooting 58 percent, including 18 of 35 three-point shots.
"I've just been in the flow, having fun," says Ellington. "I've just been losing myself in the flow of the game."
The ACC was the RPI computer's top-ranked conference this season and the Big East, which had several weak lower-level teams, was fourth. But North Carolina and Duke are the only survivors to the Sweet 16 from the ACC, which overall has performed weakly at 5-5.
Four of its seven NCAA entries — Florida State, Wake Forest, Boston College and Clemson — were bounced in the first round, and Maryland went out in the second.
"We put ourselves in the seat, and we've got to ride it where it takes us," Williams said. "We had a bad couple of days, no question about it. It sort of takes away the ammunition you'd like to be able to use in comparing leagues.
"I do think the ACC has stood the test of time and when I talk to other coaches, they don't have any interest in getting into our league."
The Big East, meanwhile, has five of its seven entries in the Sweet 16.
• North Carolina is making a record 23rd Sweet 16 appearance. Its 17 Final Fours are tied for the top with UCLA.
• A public sale of tickets for all three games of the South Regional in Memphis was to begin at 9 a.m. today through the Gonzaga ticket office at 509-313-6000. Cost is $159 for the package.
• Gonzaga is 8-3 against the ACC and 1-0 against Carolina. The victory came in the semifinals of the preseason NIT in November 2006, almost three complete seasons ago.
• The Tar Heels are threatening several team records, one of which is their 18-point average margin of victory, topping the 17.8 in the title year of 1992-93.
• Williams on Zags coach Mark Few: "I think he's one of the great coaches in our game. I enjoy the dickens out of him." After joking about their respective golf and fishing interests, Williams added, "I told him, 'Don't ever think about leaving Gonzaga until you talk to me.' "
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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