CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Roy Williams went to the training room Tuesday morning to see how point guard Ty Lawson was recovering from a sprained left ankle. The answer was enough to give the North Carolina coach reason for concern.
"He walked in the trainer's room on crutches," Williams said, "and I think it's awfully difficult to go from crutches one day to playing against Duke the next day."
Lawson's status has become the biggest variable in the latest
matchup of college basketball's most intense rivalry. With a healthy Lawson, the third-ranked Tar Heels can run with their typical zeal and better handle the second-ranked Blue Devils' perimeter pressure. If the speedy sophomore is limited or can't play at all, North Carolina Tar Heels will be a different team.
Lawson was hurt about four minutes into Sunday's 84-73 overtime
win at Florida State and didn't return. He missed practice Monday
and was unavailable for comment before Tuesday's practice because
he was receiving treatment. Afterward, team spokesman Steve
Kirschner said Lawson was unable to participate in team drills and
managed only some light shooting on his own while wearing an air
cast, though he has not been ruled out.
It is the second time this season Lawson's ankles have been a
hot topic leading up to a game. He sat out at Ohio State in
November after spraining his right ankle against BYU in the Las
But this time, the Tar Heels (21-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have less depth to handle it. Reserve Bobby Frasor, who started against the Buckeyes and could play both guard positions, was lost to a season-ending knee injury in December.
That leaves the Tar Heels with senior Quentin Thomas, a career reserve and the only active player remaining from the 2005 NCAA championship team. He would likely inherit the starting role if Lawson is out with junior swingman Marcus Ginyard also to see time at point against the Blue Devils (19-1, 7-0).
"For me personally, it's being ready for anything," said
Thomas, who had a career-high nine points to go with six assists in
36 minutes against the Seminoles. "And whenever my time is to go
out there for the game, I just have to be prepared. ... Whether
it's 36 minutes or 2 minutes, I just need to do what it takes."
Either way, both teams sound ready to run in a matchup of two of
the nation's top offenses. North Carolina ranks second nationally
in scoring at 91 points per game, while Duke ranks third at 85.7.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is preparing his team as though Lawson
will play at full strength.
"I just think it's tough to keep any kid out of this game, from
either side," Krzyzewski said Monday. "We prepare for him being
100 percent. And the other thing is they're not really going to try
to change their system. If his minutes are limited or he didn't
play, they have a senior point guard who would try to simulate that."
Still, while Williams and his players sound confident in Thomas,
it's unclear whether the Tar Heels will operate as efficiently if Lawson is sidelined. They have a clear edge up front with All-American Tyler Hansbrough (6-foot-9, 250 pounds) along with sophomores Deon Thompson (6-8, 240) and Alex Stepheson (6-9, 235) against a small and quick Duke team that is getting by with Lance Thomas (6-8, 220) inside.
But Duke's perimeter pressure has been good enough to deny entry passes against bigger teams all season. Hansbrough had trouble getting the ball -- he scored his first field goal midway through
the second half -- against the Seminoles after Lawson's exit.
For now, the Tar Heels sound like they expect Lawson to be out.
"We don't know what's going to happen with him," reserve Danny Green said. "Right now everybody's mentally prepared that we're
going to play without him. Everybody's just got to be ready to step