Ordinarily, I try to avoid making medical judgments. At my house, it's a major crisis just deciding whether to take one or two aspirin.
But this one is a snap. It's the most sound diagnosis you'll ever get. I'm here at the Southeast Regional to report that Rasheed Wallace's injured left ankle is progressing very nicely.
Wallace showed it Thursday night, turning in a near-perfect second half performance as North Carolina outlasted Georgetown, 74-64, and moved on to Saturday's regional final against Kentucky.
Ever since Wallace first sprained the ankle against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament, people had been wondering whether he'd return to peak form in the NCAA Tournament.
During the first two rounds, he was clearly hobbled. Wallace scored six and seven points in the subregionals. Heading into the regionals, he said he was near 100 percent, but you had to wonder after his two-point first half Thursday.
Then he took over the game. Once the Hoyas extended their defense to shut down North Carolina's potent three-point attack, Wallace went to work against the overmatched Georgetown front line.
He scored six points in the first 2:20 of the half as the Tar Heels opened up a 15-point lead. Every time Georgetown made a run, Wallace responded -- be it with a followup dunk, a baseline jumper or a blocked shot.
Wallace finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks. He made all nine of his shots in the second half. The last time a Wallace had a night this successful in Alabama, it was when they were electing a governor.
"In Tallahassee (site of the subregional), I was worried about my ankle," Wallace said. "I was sort of cautious. But today, I had a couple days rest and I knew it was do or die. I figured if it hurt, I'd play through it. And if I couldn't play, I'd sit down and my teammates could step it up."
His teammates did that in the first half, hitting six three-pointers against a sagging Hoya defense. Meanwhile, Georgetown center Othella Harrington was scoring 14 points against a somewhat soft Tar Heel front line.
As he got ready to come out for the second half, Wallace thought to himself, "I'm not ready to go home." And when the second half began, he found that Thompson had switched his defense.
"In the first half, they double and tripled down on me," Wallace said. "I had a man on the right of me, a man to the left and one behind. And Coach (John) Thompson, I guess, told them to guard the three-point line and it opened things for me and Jerry (Stackhouse)."
It was a matter of Thompson choosing his poison. If North Carolina isn't killing you with the outside shooting of Donald Williams, it can wear you down with the post play of Wallace and Stackhouse.
That was the clear difference between the teams. The Hoyas made a nice run, but they were not one of the 16 best teams in the country. They got this far by beating a Xavier team that was without two suspended players and a Weber State team that had upset Michigan State.
Thompson's team isn't ready for this level of the Big Dance yet. He has an extraordinary freshman in Allen Iverson, but Iverson is too young and erratic. He went 0 for 6 in the first half. After Thompson convinced him to stop being a point guard and be more of a scorer, he scored 21 of his 24 points to keep the Hoyas close.
Still, you have to wonder if Georgetown might have been better off sticking with the inside game and Harrington. That was the Hoyas' flaw all season, a tendency to rely too much on a talented but erratic 6-foot freshman.
Point guards can do a lot for a team. But if I'm trying to reach the Final Four, I'd rather have my 6-10 center shooting those high-percentage dunks and layups.
"Wallace definitely hurt us inside," Thompson said. "We were conscious of him in the beginning. Then they started to hit threes and we had to go out and guard them. They threw it over the top and he did a good job of dunking over us.
"He's tall," Thompson said. "He's big. And he's skillful. He isn't just tall."
Yes, the ankle is fine. Not to mention the Heels.