Berry one tough nut in helping UNC to victory

Despite the pain from two sprained ankles, point guard Joel Berry still managed 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 33 minutes while leading UNC to an Elite Eight win against Kentucky

Justin Ford—X02835
Mar 26

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Joel Berry came into Sunday’s NCAA South Region final against Kentucky with one bad ankle. Five minutes into the game, he had a matching set.The junior point guard, who has been battling a sore right ankle since the opening game of this year’s tournament, threw a scare into coach Roy Williams and the North Carolina basketball team when he suffered an injury to the other foot.The problem forced him back to the locker room for a quick examination and tape job, and slowed Berry for the remainder of the game. But it didn’t stop him from coming back and valiantly leading the Tar Heels to a 75-73 victory that earned them a trip to the Final Four next week in Phoenix.”It’s giving me a lot of pain right now, but it’s all worth it,” Berry said afterward. “I get a whole week to do rehab. Last week I only had a short amount of time and I did some good recovery for that and was able to get back out there and play.”When I got back out there, I just told myself, ‘C’mon, JB, fight through it,’ and that’s what I did.”Despite the pain, Berry finished with 11 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 33 minutes. But he was clearly bothered by the injury he suffered as he drove into the lane on a play in which he passed to teammate Kennedy Meeks for a dunk.”I was trying to push off of it and that’s why it’s giving me more pain then it did last week,” he Berry said. “I came down on it last week compared to pushing down into the ground.”While the new injury to his left ankle was the one that troubled him most in the game, it wasn’t the most serious one he suffered during a weekend in which the Tar Heels also beat Butler to continue their national championship quest.Saturday at practice, Berry tweaked his already sore right ankle, the one that he originally hurt when he came down on a defender’s foot in UNC’s first round NCAA tournament win against Texas Southern.”We didn’t say anything about it, (but) yesterday at practice he sprained his (right) ankle again,” Williams said. “It was the longest 10 minutes I’ve ever had in practice when he went off the court with our trainer.”I walked back there one time and then came back out and what did he do early in the game today? He sprained the other ankle.”And yet, he still made a significant contribution to a win against an elite opponent, one that was secured on a clutch jumper by teammate Luke Maye with 0.3 seconds remaining.Unable to get enough lift on his jumper to shoot accurately — he was 0 for 5 from 3-point range — he began attacking the basket instead to score and feed teammates.”I’ve said it affectionately and not any criticism, he’s a tough nut,” Williams said of Berry. “He’s out there with both feet not feeling really good. Even when we got on the court and they were jumping around and then when the alma mater and everybody was stomping their feet, the two of us were standing beside each other. I said ‘I’m not stomping.’ He said ‘I’m not either.’ He’s got two bad ankles. I’ve got two bad knees.”Williams’ knees probably won’t be getting much better in the week UNC has before its national semifinal date against Oregon in Phoenix next Saturday. The question is whether that will be enough time for Berry’s sore ankles to heal enough for him to be as effective as the Tar Heels need him to be to complete their postseason run with a happy ending.Berry, being the “tough nut” his coach said he is, has no doubt he’ll be ready.”We have a whole week,” he said. “So that gives me a lot of time.”