Friday, March 31, 2017

Back on Final Four stage, UNC seeks redemption, but must first conquer Oregon

Justin Jackson and North Carolina familiarize themselves with shooting conditions at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Tar Heels face Oregon in Final Four Saturday. (Photo by J.D. Lyon Jr./Tar Heel Photo)

The storyline that has followed North Carolina throughout the NCAA Tournament will grow ever stronger this weekend.

Villanova, and the Kris Jenkins three-pointer to steal a national championship from the Tar Heels at the buzzer, the 4.7 seconds that turned Marcus Paige's miraculous, double-clutching three to tie the score into a footnote in history.

The quest for redemption has trailed UNC to Arizona as well now that the Tar Heels are in their NCAA-record 20th Final Four, where they will meet Oregon in a national semifinal, hoping to move one step closer to what eluded them last April.

"I haven't sensed that our team has many thoughts in a negative manner about what happened last year except the final outcome," head coach Roy Williams said of UNC (31-7) revisiting the Final Four and coping with the heartbreak that concluded their 2015-16 season. "We used that as fuel to motivate us over the summer to work harder. We haven't made it our mantra that we're all standing around holding hands, chanting 4.7 seconds or anything like that, but you're right. It's a heartache that you can't erase. It's always going to be there."

"I do think that once the game starts, or even the gameday preparations, I don't think they'll be thinking about that," he added. "I really believe they'll just be focusing on Oregon."

Champions of the West Regional, the Ducks (33-5) have received contributions from All-American Dillon Brooks to go with the sensational run enjoyed by sophomore Tyler Dorsey and the interior play of junior forward Jordan Bell. Making their first Final Four appearance since winning the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939, Oregon is relatively untested on this stage compared to the Tar Heels, a perennial championship threat. While the experience factor and the emotional backstory of last year's bitter ending play into UNC's hands on paper, it only affects the parties involved so much.

"It's a new game," said Theo Pinson of last season influencing his team's determination. "I think we're just taking it one game at a time. Right now, we're focusing on Oregon. I think the same jitters will be there, but I think we'll be alright once the ball goes up."

"I think everybody is just ready to play the game," he reassured. "We did lose it last year, but at the same time, we know what we have to take care of first, and that's Oregon."

No comments:

Post a Comment