Heels’ ad­van­tage ends with tipo≠

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Eric Ol­son

Coaches for Ore­gon, South Carolina and Gon­zaga con­cede Roy Wil­liams and his North Carolina play­ers have an ad­van­tage when it comes to know­ing how to deal with the spot­light dur­ing Fi­nal Four week.

They also don’t think it will mat­ter once the games be­gin.

“You can play in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game nine years in a row. If you go the 10th time, you’re ner­vous be­fore that ball goes up in the air. There’s no such thing as not be­ing ner­vous for a big game,” South Carolina’s Frank Martin said Mon­day dur­ing a tele­con­fer­ence with re­porters.

“What I do think is a huge ad­van­tage for Roy, his play­ers, staff mem­bers, ev­ery­one at the univer­sity, is hav­ing been through it as re­cently as last year. They’re fresh on the prepa­ra­tion, on the things to ex­pect, what’s com­ing. That way they can bet­ter man­age their times, their days, to elim­i­nate any dis­trac­tions that can pre­vent them from be­ing pre­pared for the game it­self.”

South Carolina (26-10) and Gon­zaga (36-1) will be mak­ing their Fi­nal Four de­buts when they meet in the first na­tional semi­fi­nal Satur­day at Univer­sity of Phoenix Sta­dium in Glen­dale, Ariz. Ore­gon is as much a first-timer as those two. The Ducks haven’t made it this far since win­ning the 1939 ti­tle.

Wil­liams will be coach­ing in the Fi­nal Four for the ninth time, in­clud­ing five ap­pear­ances with Carolina. The Tar Heels (31-7) play Ore­gon (33-5) in the sec­ond semi­fi­nal.

North Carolina lost to Vil­lanova in last year’s cham­pi­onship game in Hous­ton. Three of its starters from that 77-74 loss are back, and so are seven other play­ers.

Bas­ket­ball is only part of the Fi­nal Four ex­pe­ri­ence. There are team ac­tiv­i­ties, lots of me­dia com­mit­ments and con­stant at­ten­tion.

Ore­gon coach Dana Alt­man said he spoke on the phone with old coach­ing friends Lon Kruger and Mike Mont­gomery to gain some in­sight on how to bal­ance bas­ket­ball with ev­ery­thing else.

“We want to try to help our play­ers as much as pos­si­ble and make them as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble, try to get the rou­tine the same,” Alt­man said. “This is a big­ger stage. Our guys are aware of that.”

Wil­liams said he wouldn’t ex­pect play­ers from any of the teams to have dif­fi­culty ad­just­ing to the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Kids nowa­days are so much more ex­pe­ri­enced, they’re so much more worldly,” he said. “All the teams have high-pro­file play­ers who have been very suc­cess­ful and were re­cruited re­ally hard by sev­eral schools. Peo­ple will play (ex­pe­ri­ence) up if they choose to. Once you get there, you have to play the game. Yes, I think it helps for me and some our guys who were there last year to know the hoopla around it. Each coach is good enough to get their guys to fo­cus on the games, and that’s what is im­por­tant.”

Gon­zaga coach Mark Few said “ev­ery­thing is go­ing to get ratch­eted up 300 per­cent now with the me­dia, the de­mands, the time.”

“The gen­eral dis­trac­tion me­ter is go­ing to go out the roof,” he said. “All four of these teams have shown they’re fe­ro­cious com­peti­tors and have the abil­ity to fo­cus on the task at hand.”

Andy Lyons, Getty Images

Coach Roy Wil­liams is a Fi­nal Four vet­eran.

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