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Oregon faces big challenge in UNC

Mar 30, 2017

(Reuters) North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the country. Oregon is down a big guy.

The Tar Heels reek of old-school. They are the only blue-blood in the Final Four. They have an old-school coach in Roy Williams. They have an old-school, low-post big man in Kennedy Meeks, who dominated Kentucky in the South Regional final, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking four shots.

North Carolina (31-7) has a national-best rebounding margin of plus-13 per game. And the Tar Heels are rebounding nearly 42 percent of their missed shots entering Saturday’s game in Glendale, Ariz., tipping off at 8:49 p.m. ET.

“We feel like it’s extremely important to get the other team in foul trouble,” Williams said. “The biggest way to get their big guys in foul trouble is to go inside. That’s something that’s been important for us ever since I started coaching, and I still believe that. And Kennedy does a great job rebounding the basketball. ...

“I do think you have to have some guys that can make 3-point shots. But I’ve seen very few teams win the NCAA championship just shooting threes, because everybody’s got somebody inside that can give you a little balance.”

Oregon (33-5) provides a contrast. It is a good rebounding team, too, although not like North Carolina. The Ducks do it more through athleticism and effort, especially after losing shot-blocking stretch-forward Chris Boucher to a torn ACL in the Pac-12 tournament.

The Ducks, playing in their first Final Four since winning the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939, often play with 6-foot-7 wing Dillon Brooks at power forward next to active 6-9 center Jordan Bell.

Bell had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks in a 74-60 takedown of overall No. 1 seed Kansas in an Elite Eight game in Kansas City, Mo.

“I can’t overemphasize Jordan controlling the paint in the first 10 minutes of the game and just putting a thought in their mind that they were not going to get easy baskets,” Ducks coach Dana Altman said.

While many wrote off Oregon after the Boucher injury, the Ducks got hot behind a tight rotation that is not going much past six players.

Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey has scored at least 20 points in seven consecutive games. He made 25 of 40 3-point shots in the past six games.

Bell, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has double-digit rebounds in six straight games. Hardly anyone plays harder than Brooks, the Pac-12 Player of the Year who is averaging 16.3 points per game.

“I think all the guys have picked it up a little bit, just knowing that Chris isn’t there,” Altman said. “But we will have our work cut out for us on Saturday. North Carolina is probably the best rebounding team that we faced all year. They score pretty good on the first shot, but their offensive rebounding numbers are off the charts.”

Much of the focus before Saturday will be on the health of North Carolina point guard Joel Berry II, who is dealing with two balky ankles.

“Hopefully by the time we get to Thursday or Friday, he’ll be able to do some things in practice,” Williams said, “but I’m scared to death right now because I don’t know.”


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