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No tale of The Toe now for N.C. guard

Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet seems relaxed during an interview at Ford Field in Detroit on Thursday. Connecticut faces Michigan State in a semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet seems relaxed during an interview at Ford Field in Detroit on Thursday. Connecticut faces Michigan State in a semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

DETROIT – Ty Lawson sat down in front of reporters at Ford Field on Thursday and answered questions about everything from his habit of pulling pranks on teammates, his improved play as North Carolina’s point guard and playing on the same AAU team as Villanova’s Dante Cunningham.

Yet, for one of the few times in the past three weeks, one subject didn’t dominate conversation: The Toe.

Maybe that’s because the Tar Heels’ floor leader doesn’t seem too worried about it heading into the Final Four.

“It’s pretty much a nonfactor right now,” he said.

Lawson jammed his right big toe during practice two days before the regular-season finale against Duke, but played 36 minutes and nearly had a triple-double in that win. The next day, the toe swelled unexpectedly and kept him out of two Atlantic Coast Conference tournament games followed by the NCAA Tournament opener the following week.

He hasn’t looked limited since his return. He scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime in the 84-70 second-round win against LSU, then had 19 points and nine assists against Gonzaga. In the regional final against Oklahoma, Lawson had 19 points and was selected as the South Regional’s most outstanding player.

Lawson sounded ready for Saturday’s matchup with Villanova in the national semifinals. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, Lawson said the toe felt like an 8.

Squeal with delight

Coach Jay Wright will have his lucky charm tucked safely in his pocket as Villanova tries to huff and puff and blow North Carolina down.

Move over Babe and Wilbur. Wright has his own lucky pig.

Wright’s 10-year-old daughter, Reilly, decided midway through the season that her dad needed a good-luck charm before big games, so she gave Villanova’s coach a miniature stuffed pig.

Reilly Wright had been bringing her own pigs to games and passed one on to her dad. He’s kept the pig safely tucked in his designer suit’s inside pocket, and he’ll have it Saturday against the Tar Heels.

“I certainly didn’t want my players knowing I had a little pig in my pocket,” Wright said. “And I also had to admit to my daughter that I really don’t believe that the pigs win us the game.”

MSU’s masked man

Michigan State prides itself on being a balanced team that doesn’t rely on a star or two. The Spartans, though, say they need forward Raymar Morgan to play well to upset Connecticut.

“Raymar is going to be the X-factor in this game,” Michigan State center Goran Suton said.

Coach Tom Izzo agrees.

“I don’t think it’s putting pressure on him, it’s just being honest,” Izzo said.

The Spartans hope the 6-foot-8 Morgan gives the Huskies problems, because he can score inside and out, defend, rebound and run.

But Morgan is averaging less than six points a game in the NCAA Tournament, barely looking like the player coach Izzo said was his best in the middle of the season.

Morgan’s season was stunted in late January with walking pneumonia and mononucleosis and hasn’t been the same since.

“It’s been a tough year, but all that matters is we’re in the Final Four,” Morgan said.

He broke his nose in the round of 16 against Kansas, then was held scoreless in 10 minutes in the next round versus Louisville.

Road to the Final Four

Only Michigan State hit the road for Ford Field, just 90 miles from the Spartan’s campus in East Lansing.

For those interested in how many airline miles the three other team’s players would have received – if they were eligible to receive any benefits – the NCAA conveniently posted signs in the four corners of the arena showing the distance each traveled.

Connecticut came the farthest, 746 miles. Close behind was North Carolina at 701, followed by Villanova at 572.

———

FINAL FOUR

Saturday on CBS – Connecticut vs. Michigan State, 3:07 p.m.; North Carolina vs. Villanova, 5:47 p.m.

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