Lawson proves worth to Carolina

With toe injury behind him, do-it-all guard puts Heels back on championship course

College Basketball Ncaa Men

April 02, 2009|By David Teel | David Teel,Newport News Daily Press

Sporting stylish eyewear and lounging on a doctor's exam table, North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson embodied fashion and relaxation the day before the Tar Heels' second-round NCAA tournament game.

As Lawson held court with reporters, his teammates couldn't hide their amusement. Lawson's vision? Crystal clear. His injured big toe? Likely healed.

The glasses and table? Completely unnecessary.

In three subsequent games, Lawson has proved just how necessary he is to North Carolina's national championship hopes.

The junior dissected LSU in the second round and followed up by earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the South Regional, in which the Tar Heels dispatched Gonzaga and Oklahoma to advance to their 18th Final Four.

He has been there before. But after North Carolina's Final Four loss to Kansas last season, he eventually put aside his NBA aspirations and decided to again chase a national title. In the process, he became the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year.

Long a blur with the ball, the 5-foot-11 Lawson passed for more assists, committed fewer turnovers and improved his three-point shooting to nearly 50 percent. In short, he became virtually indefensible. He is averaging 16.3 points and 6.5 assists entering Saturday's national semifinal against Villanova.

"He's matured a great deal," said coach Roy Williams, who refers to Lawson as Dennis the Menace. "He's better defensively. He's made better decisions. ... I think now he realizes what he can do even more so than he did last year."

And the Tar Heels have come to realize how much they need him, especially after he injured his big right toe. Lawson jammed it late in the season and requested a pain-killing injection before North Carolina's home finale against Duke.

The Tar Heels won to secure top seed in the ACC tournament as Lawson contributed 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. But Lawson missed the next three games, including a semifinal loss to Florida State in the conference tournament, commencing a torrent of news updates and Internet musings about his toe.

Lawson returned against LSU and scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime, proving the difference in an 84-70 win.

Lawson was even better at the regional in Memphis. Against Gonzaga and Oklahoma, he produced 38 points on 13-for-22 shooting, 14 assists and four steals with only two turnovers.

"In some instances I think the toe injury might have helped Ty Lawson," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's playing at a great pace right now. He's not forcing anything."

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