Marilyn Payne

Williams 'hopeful' about Berry's playing status ahead of NCAA Second Round

Posted March 18
Updated March 19

— Joel Berry was tentative climbing out of bed Saturday morning after North Carolina's NCAA Tournament First Round win.

The junior point guard rolled his right ankle about four minutes into the second half of the Tar Heels' (28-7) 103-64 win against Texas Southern and wasn't sure what to expect the first time he put weight on it the next morning.

"I was nervous about that first step that I was going to take when I got out of bed," he said Saturday afternoon. "I did limp a little bit, but as I moved it and did the treatment this morning, it got better.

"I can walk without limping now, so that just shows the progression."

Berry assesses his own strength as being at between 75 and 80 percent. He says, "yes, there's a chance," head coach Roy Williams tells him he doesn't want him to go Sunday evening, or doesn't have him play full force or full minutes in the NCAA Tournament Second Round game against Arkansas (26-9).

"We have no idea if Joel Berry, what his ankle's going to be like in another 30 hours or whatever it is, he's not going to practice today," Williams said Saturday. "He's been getting treatment. I'm hopeful that he will play. But just to wait and see."

Berry landed on a defender's foot while shooting a three-pointer Friday night, went back to UNC's locker room, but did return to the game after telling Williams that he wanted to.

"I'm never a guy to let something like this stop me from playing," Berry said. "I want to play and that's my goal. I'm not 100 percent, but I'm getting close."

"I wanted to have confidence that I could get back out there if it was a championship game and just play the rest of the game, I felt like if I needed to stay back out there, I could've."

After the win Friday, Berry explained that he'd stayed on the floor a little longer than normal after taking his first shot once returning to the game because he thought he was fouled on the way to the basket. After driving the lane and missing his layup, Berry stayed on the offensive end of the floor instead of getting back on defense. By the time he'd gotten off the floor and was to the right side of UNC's three-point arc, the Tar Heels were quickly back on offense and Berry intentionally stayed out of the fast break play.

For the point guard, the decision to opt out of the play was because he didn't want to push it, but he insists he was able to sprint back on defense if the game had required it.

Ahead of Sunday's game, Berry believes there is a chance that he is pulled from the game if No. 1 seed North Carolina is dominating, but he has no expectations about his playing status.

"If we get to the second half and we have a pretty comfortable lead, which I don't expcet, they might pull me a little bit early.," Berry said. "I'm just going in preparing for the game like I'm playing, regardless of what happens."

"I have to have the confidence that if they do call my name, I'm ready to play and if he decides to sit me out, he's the one that makes that decision, I just have to be ready."

In the event that Berry does not play, Williams will use seniors Nate Britt and Stilman White and freshman Seventh Woods to share the time, just as the team did earlier in the season with the stating point guard out of the lineup.

Without a doubt, though, the trio lacks Berry's proven ability as a shooter and as a defensive leader.

"None of those guys have done as good a job as Joel, shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line," Williams said. "Nate shot it well last night, I think made two 3s last night, was five assists on our chart, no turnovers. Stilman can shoot the basketball, Seventh has tremendous speed and quickness. If I can put all three of them together and have one player at the end, I wouldn't be that worried.

"But Joel has been one of our leaders and not just by scoring or shooting 3-point shots, but the way he plays defense. But we can't go out and draft anybody. So we've gotta figure out somebody to play."

There is no timeline on when North Carolina will make a decision on Berry's status, or if that decision will be announced publicly before tipoff.

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