— HIS - The toe has hurt for a while, so when he got to practice the last few weeks, Ty Lawson dribbled the ball less and shot it more. He just wanted to take it easy, not push it, so he would lob these threes at the rim.
All this time, when we thought there was this painful hell the North Carolina point guard was going through, the slacker just practiced shooting. He didn’t push it. He would let the toe have a day off, and exercised the arm, worked on that flick of the wrist.
Now do you see what happened to Gonzaga and what waits for Oklahoma?
While Ty "The Toe" Lawson was supposed to be taking it easy, he was wearing out the nets in practice, keeping that 47 percent stroke from the 3-point line oiled up. Bobby Frasor saw it in practice, smiled, and figured this is that reward that shows up unexpectedly.
Lawson left the Zags in shambles here Friday night in the Tar Heels’ 98-77 laugher in the Fed Ex Forum with his shooting. Jeremy Pargo, the Gonzaga guard, would sag underneath the screens, worried about Lawson’s speed to the rim, and Lawson would instead step back and strip the nets.
The junior hit 3-of-4 3-pointers, and made 7-of-9 shots for 19 points. Lawson had nine assists, but you knew he could do that. We weren’t sure of the cuts and the moves and the drives and the liftout, but now we are.
Oklahoma has been warned. The Sooners will get the best of Carolina.
Friday night, Lawson did all the things that made him the ACC Player of the Year. When Gonzaga really gave some effort on defense and denied the first option, then the second option, then the third option, Lawson found the fourth on the backside for a bucket.
It wasn’t fair. The Tar Heels push and share better than any team in college basketball. It is because of Lawson.
"The Toe" kicked Gonzaga in the you-know-what. He blew a hole through the Zags’ flimsy defense, hit 3-pointers, made just about every pass, deflected passes, and mostly stopped the other team’s point guard.
The guy played only 27 minutes, but had a productive nine assists while turning over the ball just once.
After the game, Lawson sat with his big toe in ice and put a towel over it so inquiring eyes could not dissect this mysterious injury some more. After Friday's game, we don’t believe it's an issue any more, whether we see it or not.
If it turns out Lawson’s toe really does hurt and he is not 100 percent, and the Heels lose, well, it will sound like an alibi because 80 percent of this kid was good enough for North Carolina to score 98 points against the Zags.
So now that Ty Lawson and Ty Lawson’s toe have pronounced themselves fit, we can have the matchup we want here Sunday. The best team in the country (North Carolina) against the best player in the country (Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin).
It is what a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup should look like. A contrast, a match of wills.
Tyler Hansbrough and Griffin will be counted on to bring their fierce selves to the showdown, and now we know Lawson will bring his best, too.
I have seen the Tar Heels without Lawson, and with Lawson there is an obvious switch from good to great. Lawson passes to shooters in stride and in rhythm. All he has to do is make a move toward the rim and the defense panics.
If I was Oklahoma, I would take a chance and get Tony Crocker, a more savvy and taller guard, on Lawson from the opening tip. The Tar Heels have other weapons, but Lawson cracks the whip and needs to be slowed down. Willie Warren, the freshman point guard for Oklahoma, is 6-foot-4, Crocker is 6-6.
Of course, Warren would have to slide to defend North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington, the poor guy who is having a fabulous tournament but is overshadowed by Lawson’s toe.
Ellington, a 6-4 junior, is portrayed as a shooter encased in cement, requiring feet still enough to shoot, but he has been driving and shooting these last two weekends. He had 19 points against Gonzaga to go with 25 against Radford and 23 against LSU. In three NCAA tournament games, the former one-dimensional Ellington has made 27-of-45 shots (60 percent).
Danny Green, who struggled without Lawson drawing and dishing in the ACC tournament, seemed more at ease with 13 points Friday.
There is hope for Oklahoma. Lawson said the toe does not like to go slow. It likes to go fast and get loose.
Griffin may get his 25 on Sunday. Crocker, who burned Syracuse for a career-high 28, could go for a big game against the Tar Heels, but I doubt it. He was averaging nine points a game for an entire season. Griffin, in the end, will not get enough help.
The Sooners have a chance if this regional final is a waltz, but there is little chance of that. North Carolina runs and now that Lawson is running like his old self, the Tar Heels will run to the Final Four.