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UNC men's basketball plans to go right at Oregon shot blocker Jordan Bell

Oregon's Jordan Bell blocked eight shots in the Ducks' Elite Eight win over Kansas. Photo courtesy of Adam Eberhardt/Emerald.

Oregon's Jordan Bell blocked eight shots in the Ducks' Elite Eight win over Kansas. Photo courtesy of Adam Eberhardt/Emerald.

GLENDALE, ARIZ. It seems counterintuitive to go right at Oregon's Jordan Bell — who has more blocks this season than Isaiah Hicks has in his entire career — but that's exactly what the North Carolina men's basketball team is planning to do tomorrow in the Final Four.

Like Hicks, Bell stands at just 6-foot-9. But his ability to sky high above the crowd has made him a paramount piece of a Duck defense that blocks 17 percent of its opponents' two-point attempts this season, good for first in the country.

Against Kansas in the Elite Eight, Bell put on a masterclass in shot blocking, swatting eight Jayhawk attempts while also tallying 11 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

"That dude is a freak," said junior wing Theo Pinson. "I mean, he's really athletic. I remember him in high school. He affected shots then. But he's going to be another challenge."

The Tar Heels' best strategy against Bell might be similar to how they attacked Kentucky's Bam Adebayo on Sunday, when North Carolina's forwards drew him out of the paint and opened things up inside for the team's guards.

"If we can continue to do that," Joel Berry said, "get our bigs out on the perimeter a little bit, keep the ball moving and then on the defensive end just block him out and not give him a free run to the basket — I think that will help us out."

If that plan doesn't work, the Tar Heels have two other avenues they could take.

Berry said he likes to drive right into a shot blocker, which can result in separation and a clean look or a foul call on the defender.

Down low, UNC's forwards could try the same thing or opt for a few shot fakes, which the team believes could be an effective strategy against an eager Bell.

"I think he bids for almost every shot that he thinks he can go get," Justin Jackson said. "So I think there's going to be a lot of times where pump fakes might be involved ... When he's not on the court, it's way easier to play. And so it will be key to try to get him in foul trouble."

But the Tar Heels have to be prepared if Bell weathers everything and still gets his hand on the ball. He's a heady enough player to keep the ball in bounds after blocking a shot attempt, allowing Oregon to push the ball immediately. If he does that tomorrow, North Carolina could find itself on the wrong end of a lot of 5-on-4 fastbreaks.

The Tar Heels aren't going to change who they are. This team made it to the Final Four by playing its own style, not adapting to its opponents', and it will continue to do so tomorrow — even if it means going directly at one of the nation's best shot blockers. 

"If you have a guy who can do that on the defensive end, you can't shy away from him," said assistant coach Hubert Davis. "You have to attack him and see what happens."

@jbo_vernon

sports@dailytarheel.com

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