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Oregon, Gonzaga, South Carolina try to brace for Final Four experience

By Shannon Ryan | Chicago Tribune (TNS)

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Final Four is an event where stars become star struck and distractions are plentiful.

Fulfilling a request from Nike, Kobe Bryant visited Oregon and Gonzaga locker rooms.

South Carolina players were given a deadline on distributing tickets to friends and family. Gonzaga players wondered what it would be like to play in front of 70,000 fans in a few days.

While North Carolina is making its second straight Final Four appearance, this business is all new for the other three teams. And the coaches are trying to manage the hoopla surrounding this event.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin turned to some friends who know what it’s like to work on this stage.

“We talked about all the stuff that kind of prevents you from focusing on basketball and how they managed it, the mistakes they made their first time through and how they tried to adjust it every single time,” Martin said.

Oregon has not been to a Final Four since the first championship in 1939, which it won. The Ducks brought the wobbly trophy with them to the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Gonzaga and South Carolina never have been to a Final Four before. The goal now: Don’t get overwhelmed by the moment.

“Focus on doing your job,” Martin said he told his players. “If our job is not good enough, nothing to be ashamed of. But we’re not playing the arena. We’re not playing the Final Four. We’re playing Gonzaga. So we have to focus on doing what we have to do to figure out a way to win that game.”

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North Carolina guard Joel Berry II said he’s ready to play against Oregon on Saturday.

Berry injured his left ankle in the Elite Eight against Kentucky. He had sprained his right ankle earlier this season and again in a first-round game against Texas Southern.

Coach Roy Williams said Berry would need to take part in full court practice Friday to play.

“I’m very confident,” Berry said. “Even if I’m not 100 percent, I’m still playing. There are only two games left and I’m not going to sit them out. When we get to Saturday I should be close to 100 percent.”

Berry said he was limited Thursday in Glendale, Ariz. He practiced defense and ran along the sidelines.

“Taking that long flight didn’t help,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of rehab since we landed. I was able to move a little better than I did yesterday. I expect to be full go (at Friday’s practice).”

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Oregon, Gonzaga, South Carolina try to brace for Final Four experience