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Joel Berry tasked with stopping De'Aaron Fox ahead of Elite Eight matchup with Kentucky

North Carolina guard Joel Berry (2) drives in on a Butler defender during their Sweet 16 matchup on Friday.
North Carolina guard Joel Berry (2) drives in on a Butler defender during their Sweet 16 matchup on Friday.

MEMPHIS — The checklist is lengthy, of everything the North Carolina men’s basketball team brings on its road trips: Kennedy Meeks’ favorite pair of UGG boots, for instance, or Nate Britt’s extra earrings.

They’re frills, sure, but anything to make a hotel room feel more like home. It makes sense, then, that Joel Berry and Theo Pinson would bring their own piece of home whenever the team travels.

A PlayStation 4.

Only, this weekend in Memphis, it hasn’t gotten much use. That isn’t surprising, not with the team so focused on reaching its second Final Four in as many years — there isn’t much time for video games when you think of it that way.

“We’d prefer to sleep instead,” Pinson said after practice Saturday. “Just hang out and watch movies.”

And for good reason. On Sunday, those two will primarily be tasked with stopping Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, who scored a combined 71 points the first time these two teams met in December. Kentucky outlasted UNC, 103-100, in that game, the only time in school history the Tar Heels have scored 100 points and lost.

Now, with another date in the Elite Eight against those two on the horizon? It only makes sense Pinson and Berry would rather rest and relax than toil their nights away with virtual basketball games.

Berry especially needs that rest if he has any hope of slowing down Fox. Never mind the gimpy ankle he’s been dealing with since UNC’s first NCAA Tournament win over Texas Southern — Fox has turned into an almost unstoppable offensive threat in recent weeks. Nothing punctuated that more than his 39-point performance in Kentucky’s last game, a Sweet 16 win over UCLA.

So Joel, what’s your plan for stopping him? Is there one?

“I mean, he scored 39 with no 3-pointers,” Berry said. “That just goes to show that he wants to get to the basket.”

Maybe that isn’t a strategy, per se, but it’s a solid point nonetheless. For all of Fox’s virtues — speed and explosiveness and practically any other buzzword you can think of — he’s not perfect. He cuts to the basket, he draws fouls, he makes free throws.

But he only shoots 23.1 percent from deep.

“His biggest things is getting the momentum,” Isaiah Hicks said. “Going downhill, getting to the line … We just can’t foul and can’t let him get to the rim.”

Most of that burden will fall on Berry, ankle and all.

And while he’s proven capable of keeping up with Fox offensively — he scored 26 points to lead all scorers in UNC’s Sweet 16 win over Butler — it may be Berry’s defense that determines which storied program earns a trip to Phoenix, the site of this year’s national championship game.

“Great scorers like that, it’s hard to stop them,” Pinson said. "But you’ve just gotta contain him as much as you can.”

So for now, Berry will rest. He’ll study film, treat his ankle.

And then, if all goes according to plan? Well, maybe then he’ll finally have time to play Playstation.


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