North Carolina’s loss at the buzzer to Villanova in last year’s title game is well in the past, and the Tar Heels are proving it by keeping the mood light prior to their Final Four matchup with Oregon.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mere minutes after crashing Joel Berry II’s personal press conference Friday afternoon at University of Phoenix Stadium, Theo Pinson suddenly darted behind Roy Williams on stage in the main interview room.
“That’s harder than he ran back on defense all freakin’ year,” Williams quipped.
The ensuing laughter gave Williams a jolt after he suggested taking a 15-minute nap earlier during his time with the media because of nagging sinus issues. But don’t mistake the jokes for North Carolina sleeping on Oregon. The Tar Heels came to Glendale to win, something they fell just short of in their buzzer-beater loss to Villanova in last season’s national championship game.
All the talk within the program of that heartbreaking loss ended during the offseason. They’ve moved on and only speak of it when asked – which is getting a little old to them, by the way.
“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,” said junior Justin Jackson, who is averaging 19.8 points in the NCAA Tournament. “So for us, we’re just trying to focus on Oregon and that’s it.”
That doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun in the process, though. Jackson razed Berry for having “an off day the last three days” because of Berry’s ankle problems, prompting laughs from both Williams and Pinson.
And when a reporter pointed out that Oregon’s last trip to the Final Four in 1939 came long before Williams was born, Pinson chimed in with a sarcastic, “Really?!,” as dig at Williams’ age.
“All right, I’ll give you the scoop first – we’re going to have a change in our starting lineup,” Williams said, inciting even more laughs.
Maybe it’s the fact that the Tar Heels are back in the Final Four for a second straight season and joined by newcomers Gonzaga and South Carolina while few – not even Williams – can remember Oregon’s last trip there, but they’re enjoying the experience and staying loose. This is Williams’ ninth appearance in the Final Four and he reminisced about his journey at Kansas and UNC and tries to enjoy this one the same as the others.
But they know, too, that come tipoff Saturday night, they have to be all business.
“I think the same jitters will be there. But I think we’ll be all right once the ball goes up,” Pinson said. “I think everybody is just ready to play the game. I mean, we did lose it last year, but at the same time we know what we have to take care of first, and that’s Oregon.”