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Wheat's injury colors final

All of the talk about Dean and Denny took a back seat to DeJuan's injured ankle.

The East Regional final today between top seed North Carolina and No. 6 Louisville still will be a matchup of Hall of Fame coaches with a combined 1,491 victories over 62 seasons. And it still will be for a Final Four berth. But the severely sprained left ankle of Louisville senior point guard DeJuan Wheat has both teams looking at things a little differently.

"He didn't practice today. He's limping around on one crutch," Louisville coach Denny Crum said Saturday. "As bad as he looks today, I'd say it's unlikely he'll play tomorrow, but you never know with kids. They'll be working on him day and night. If we played today, he couldn't have played."

Wheat, who leads the Cardinals (26-8) in scoring at 17.7 points per game and in assists at 4.1, was injured early in the second half of the 78-63 victory over Texas on Friday night.

"We know Alvin Sims isn't the ball-handler Wheat is, but we're not the kind of team that can exploit the point guard position with pressure," North Carolina coach Dean Smith said. "We've lost a key player in the tournament before, and for one game the guys can band together."

The player everyone will watch today will be B.J. Flynn, Wheat's backup.

"I've been coming off the bench for DeJuan for three years," said Flynn, a senior who averages 8.9 points and 1.6 assists. "They'll be looking to me for more of a leadership role, and I can step it up. I wish DeJuan were playing, but I'm ready."

Smith and Crum are Nos. 1 and 3 on the career NCAA Tournament victory list with 64 and 42, respectively, sandwiching John Wooden's 47 at UCLA.

"I'm not playing Denny, and if I was, he's got six years and about three inches on me," said the 66-year-old Smith, who claimed to be 5 feet 11. "I'm more impressed with their defense and the way they turned it up against Texas."

North Carolina (27-6) advanced with its 15th consecutive victory, 63-57 over California, which wasn't sealed until an impressive second-half run featuring forward Antawn Jamison.

"Dean's a great coach, and there aren't enough accolades you can say about what he's done in his career," Crum said. "Coaching can help. We're all a part of it. But the players still have to execute."

Jamison, who scored the first 10 points of a 15-3 run that wiped out California's seven-point lead midway through the second half, practiced lightly Saturday because of some back twinges.

"He twisted his back at the shootaround Friday, and it stiffened up at the end of the game," Smith said.

"Our trainer wants to work on his back, but he will definitely play."

North Carolina is 10-4 in regional final games under Smith, while Louisville is 6-0 in the same round under Crum. The Tar Heels have advanced to the Final Four in each of the odd-numbered years during the '90s. The Cardinals' last trip was in 1986.

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