Tar Heels, Jayhawks with trouble at the point

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 24, 2012
It's a riddle neither North Carolina nor Kansas finds funny. Is it better for your star guard (the Tar Heels' Kendall Marshall) to be injured and unable to play, or your star guard (the Jayhawks' Tyshawn Taylor) to play so miserably that at times he would be better off riding the bench? Either way, two heavyweights playing in the Midwest Regional final Sunday are striking down the notion that sublime guard play is the key to NCAA tournament success. ''We were damn ugly, that's what we were,'' North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Saturday, given time to reflect on his team's overtime escape against No. 13 seed Ohio the previous night. ''We were ugly because we didn't have Kendall,'' Williams added, ''and hopefully, the one game under our belt will help us not be that ugly tomorrow.'' Coincidentally, Taylor also used that exact word - ugly - to describe his recent play. The Jayhawks' second-leading scorer was 2 for 14 from the field and committed five turnovers in a nip-and-tuck win over No. 11 seed North Carolina State on Friday night. He was 4 for 11 the previous round against Purdue, and is 0 for 12 from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament. ''There's no way I could do worse than I've done. I can't. I can only go up from here,'' the senior said, ''and that's good for me individually and us as a team, because offensively we haven't been at our best. It's a way to look at this thing as a positive.'' Good or bad, the Jayhawks know that Taylor will be running the show on Sunday. That's certainly not the case for the Tar Heels. Marshall practiced a bit Saturday for the first time since hurting his right wrist on a drive against Creighton last weekend, though it was only the walkthrough and shoot-around. He was also fitted with a brace that he would wear should he be cleared to play against Kansas. Marshall had surgery Monday to install a screw and got his cast off Wednesday. ''The range of motion is getting gradually better every day, and that's a positive sign,'' said the sophomore, whose wrist was wrapped tightly in an ice pack after the closed practice. ''There's been tremendous improvement every 24 hours.'' Marshall spent Friday night's game against Ohio sitting on the bench in a dapper black suit, tutoring freshman Stilman White whenever he checked out. White played 32 minutes - more than the previous six games combined - and had two points and six assists without a turnover. ''Last night after the game, I couldn't sleep,'' Marshall said. ''If it comes down to I'm not able to help my team and the best thing is for me to be in a suit, then that's what it'll be, and I'll still contribute the best I can.'' Marshall is averaging about eight points and 10 assists, and has scored in double figures six straight games. While forward Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller provide most of the scoring, it's Marshall who helms their fast-paced attack. He was a second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick whose 351 assists in 36 games represents the best season total in league history and fourth-most in NCAA history. ''Today is the first day he bounced the ball, today is the first day he caught a ball, today is the first day he shot a ball,'' Williams said. ''We kept him out of all the live stuff. Now we want to see if it bothers him or if it swells up or pains him. ''We'll do the same thing at shoot-around tomorrow,'' Williams said. ''Then, there are two things that have to happen. One, he has to feel comfortable that he's not hurt, and two, I have to decide can he be effective in a game with his situation.'' Kansas coach Bill Self said he would ''anticipate Marshall playing,'' and expects Taylor to be matched up against him. Taylor said he'll prepare the same way regardless of who is on the floor, which means pressuring on defense and cutting down passing lanes. It's the same formula that Ohio used to nearly pull off an upset. ''Whoever is going to play, I've got to make it tough for them to get it to their bigs, and got to make it hard for them to run their offense,'' Taylor said. ''I'm not sure if they switch up how they play or how they do things.'' After all, even when his shot isn't falling, Taylor can still contribute on defense. ''The bottom line is knowing who we are,'' Self said. ''How do you guard certain things? Where do you pick up, how do you take him out of certain sets, do you play right - I mean, there's a lot of things that you could certainly do. But we're going to prepare basically that we're going to try to guard North Carolina, regardless of who is out there at the point.''
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