North Carolina

Lawson cools his jets

Ty Lawson could have been known as the Ice Man of the ACC Tournament on Friday.

Moments after North Carolina's 82-70 quarterfinal win over Florida State, the sophomore point guard emerged from the Tar Heels' locker room inside Charlotte Bobcats Arena looking like an also-ran in the Iditarod.

The better part of the left side of his body was covered with ice.

There was the big ice bag on his left ankle, the one he injured on Feb. 3 against the Seminoles in Tallahassee that kept him out of the lineup for six games. Then there was the medium-sized ice bag on his left hip -- the result of a nagging bruise that shows some signs of lasting longer than the Democrats' presidential election process. And finally, there was the new bag. It was a small, little thing -- about the size of a sandwich bag -- that helped ease the pain of a thumb problem.

In the midst of a statewide drought that could have Carolina fans collecting and saving their teardrops in overflow barrels should another Georgetown or George Mason arise in the near future, Lawson is working his way through enough frozen water to replenish Falls Lake.

"I know. There's a lot of 'em -- too many," he said, viewing his body-cooling collection. "But I'm getting better. I know I am, but it might not look that way."

On the Lawson scale, he says he's 90 percent of full strength and speed.

On the Roy Williams scale, percentage points don't mean anything. Ol' Roy, come March, is in a Tony Stewart state of mind. Williams isn't looking for lap averages, he's counting the number of doors that get blown off as Lawson flashes by.

"I still have not seen him run past anybody with that explosion that he had before," the Carolina coach said. "Nobody has seen that happen in five weeks or six weeks, or how much time it's been. Until I see that -- where he explodes past people or takes it to the basket and scores -- he's not all the way back."

Exactly how the Lawson factor figures in the pending national championship equation is still difficult to predict. Back in the starting lineup for 21 minutes against the Seminoles, he had eight points, three assists and a steal to offset a couple of turnovers.

The Heels looked good, but not great. Great -- or near great -- is probably what will be required to reach the Final Four this season. They can't be great without Lawson at least close to his best.

"They're playing good basketball," FSU star Jason Rich said. "But with Ty Lawson, they're that much better -- a lot better."

That still sums up UNC's situation heading into the rest of the ACC weekend and the NCAA Tournament. Lawson said he expects to go roughly 20 minutes today and again tomorrow, if the Heels advance to the league championship game.

The more Lawson can play and improve his quickness, the better the Heels will get. That does come with a caveat, however. After today, the Heels will have to play for the third straight day should they win. That would put Lawson through his most demanding stretch since the injury.

"This weekend is the big test, if we can keep winning," Lawson said. "Three games in three days is what we came here to play for, and I just want to be in for all three. But I do know we can win without me."

To a degree, the Heels did just that Friday. Quentin Thomas in relief finished with four points, three assists, three rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot -- against one turnover -- in the win.

"But we need Ty, and everybody knows that," Thomas said. "I thought, today, he was pretty close to being the old Ty we've all seen before. He'll get there, and it won't be long."

Much is riding on that prediction.