Phil Ford, suffering from a hyperextended right elbow, did not practice with North Carolina yesterday when the Tar Heels prepared for today's NCAA East Regional final against Kentucky.
"I'll play, I'll paly," insisted the all-American guard. His coach and the team physician agreed
Ford was in the training room for whirlpool treatments as his team-mates took the Cole Field House floor in the final wokout for the 12:15 game (WRC-TV-4).
He was injured in the final 90 seconds of Carolina's 79-77 semifinal victory over Notre Dame Thursday night.
"There is no doubt in my mind that if the game were tonight (Friday), Ford would play," said Dr. Joseph DeWalt, the team physician.
"The elbow was stiff and painful, but it was better than we expected. There was no swelling, which is a good sign. I expect it to improve tomorrow. We did not have him practice today because that would do nothing more than aggravate it."
The biggest question, DeWalt said, is how the injury will effect Ford's shooting since he could not flex hs elbow and extend his arm full length yesterday.
"He will play Saturday," said coach Dean Smith.
Ford also was injured prior to an important NCAA playoff game a year ago, when he stretched knee ligaments in a pickup game four days before a first-round game against Alabama. He played then, but was ineffective.
"This is nothing in the same league as that," DeWalt said.
The oddsmakers evidently agree with the doctor's assessment. In Las Vegas, Kentucky was made a two-point favorite. They are saying that the Wildcats, who some say resemble the Pittsburgh Steelers in short pants, will use their muscle to overcome Carolina's quickness and agressive, relentless defense.
A Carolina team with a brokendown Ford is about as valuable as an Edsel. It loses the main cylinder of its plan attack. For the Tar Heels to their four-corner delay game and use make the Wildcats give chase.
"Dean Smith could go to it at any time," said John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who is here as a television commentator.
Smith a second-guessed himself for not going to the four corners Thursday night once the Tar Heels rallied from a 14-point deficit and took a 52-50 lead against Notre Dame, a team with personnel similar to Kentucky's.
Smith said he would not hesitate to employ the four corners for 10 minutes or so today.
"If the other team does not want to come out and chase, we'll sit back and win by two," Smith said.
"We very seldom play against somebody using the four corners," said Claytor. "They use the four corners to try to break down the defense, but they can't play the four corners unless they're ahead in the game. You've got to be patient against it."
Notre Dame lost to Carolina after going to the four corners with a 70-63 lead, committing two straight turnovers. Hall said he does not expect to go four corners if he is ahead late today; Clayton said the Wildcats probably would stick with their passing game looking for the inside shots.
"I'd be hesitant to go to the four corners against North Carolina," Hall said. "They defense it so well because of their knowledge of running it. I learned some things last night watching it."
Woodne, who picks Kentucky because of its inside strength, had this insight on the Tar Heel's offense.
"Carolina does it all t he time. When they go to it, it's a part of their regular game. Others use it only as a protective measure. For Carolina, it's an offensive weapon. For others, it's a negative thing. You're not accustomed to playing it that much."
For he Wildcats to be successful, they must play better than they did in Thursday's 93-78 win over VMI, use their muscle to control the back-boards and patiently work the ball inside to take advantage of their size.
"We have to play a lot better than we played Thursday night and we are capable of playing better," Kentucky coach Joe Hall said. "I think all of us had a good rest. The North Carolina player leave their feet to deflect a dribble; they play with a lot of heart and if we can muster that type of effort, it will be a great game."
Of the main concern to Hall was his guards' reluctance to use the team's inside advantage against VMI. Instead, Truman Clayton, with 13-for-15 shooting in a 29 points game, and Jack Givens provided the scoring.
"From the bench they (the inside players) appeared to be open," said Hall, "but from the guard position they didn't. I don't want to overcoach, or take anything away from Claytor's 13 for 15.
"But I want to get balance. Post men (Kentucky plays a double-post offense regardless of whether 6-10 Mike Phillips or 6-10 Rick Robey is playing with 6-5, 230-pound James Lee tend to go to sleep if they don't get the ball. It's like feeding the lions. You have to throw the meat to them once in a while."
A major question for Kentucky is whether they can use Robey and Phillips at the same time and still play their brand of pressure, man-to-man defense.
Otherwise, the Wildcats will be forced to use a zone, as they had to against VMI. If Ford and Walter Davis can shoot well despite injuries, North Carolina could devour the zone."I hope they can use it," was the way Carolina guard John Kuester put it.
Hall is hoping that Robey, as a forward, will be able to fight through Carolina's screens and cover Mike O'Koren, the 6-7 freshman.
"Robey has made tremendous development defending against a passing game like North Carolina uses," said Hall. "That's the key to it. As long as he can hold his own, we can play them (Robey and Phillips) together."