BY JIM O’CONNELL
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Some things to watch for in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday:
MEN IN THE MIDDLE: Seven-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski is Gonzaga’s center and he will be matched up with 6-10 Maik Kotsar of South Carolina.
Karnowski, a senior, averages 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field. Kotsar, a freshman, averages 5.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Karnowski has been battling a back issue.
“It was mostly my lower back, maybe a little bit going to my legs,” he said. “Basically any movement where my disc had pressure was painful. Just going every day to the practice facility was a big challenge for me.”
With two big men going at it, it won’t be easy to officiate inside.
“Obviously I’m bigger than 99.9 percent of the players in the NCAA,” Karnowksi said. “I just try to play through that and whatever happens I cannot complain. The referees always talk and I want to see their perspective. At the same time I don’t want to go emotional. I want to stay in the game and stay dialed in.”
BACK AGAIN: North Carolina has a chance to leave this Final Four with a better result than last season’s last-second loss to Villanova in the championship game.
“I think the offseason was the biggest part where we felt like we had unfinished business,” All-America forward Justin Jackson said. “Now we’re here for Oregon. And we don’t look past that or anything. We’re focusing on Oregon. And I think the whole unfinished business or revenge, I don’t know how you can have revenge on a team that wasn’t the person that took it from you. And so for us, we’re just trying to focus on Oregon and that’s it.”
COACHING EXPERIENCE: This is North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ ninth Final Four, six more than the other three coaches combined.
“We had a chance to talk a little bit last night,” Williams said of the four coaches. “But the good thing is that I consider those three guys friends before this happened, guys I have a ton of respect for.
“And then let’s be honest, I’ve coached at two pretty good places. I’ve coached at Kansas and North Carolina. And it’s not easy to get here, but it’s easier at those two places, and I’m not trying to be humble, I’m being what I think is truthful. It’s easier to get here with coaching at the places I’ve been coaching. I don’t pat myself too much about that.”
HEALTH ISSUES: South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, the Southeastern Conference player of the year and the tournament’s leading scorer with a 25.8 average, practiced Friday after missing it the day before because of illness.
“I’m going to share this with you, but he said to me last night, ‘Man, I feel like I’m letting everyone down,'” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “I said, ‘Huh? What is wrong with you? Letting who down? The game’s Saturday. You’ll be all right, man.’
“But that’s just who he is. He feels that our guys practiced and he was not there to help them. That’s who he is. But he’s in good spirits. I’ve been giving him a hard time all morning, because I know he doesn’t like it, that the rest of us worked yesterday and he laid around in bed and watched TV.”
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II, the point guard for the high-octane offense, has been battling ankle issues. He practiced Friday and is expected to play Saturday.
“I don’t think there was ever a thought in our mind that he wasn’t going to play, just the type of guy that he is,” Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Justin Jackson said. “But it does give us more confidence knowing that he’ll be out there with us.”
FIRST TO 80: The North Carolina-Oregon game should be one where both teams try and get out and run, a lot.
Oregon averages 78.9 points per game while the Tar Heels average 85.0 points, scoring 80 or more 26 times, 90 or more 17 times and over 100 six times.
“We’ve got to limit their touches in the paint as much as we can, which is a very difficult task since they run so many things to get the ball inside,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said. “We’re going to have to do a tremendous job defensively to try to keep the ball out of there a little bit.”