WASHINGTON (AP) - If all Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams needed to worry about lately was basketball, that would have been plenty.
Could he generate enough offense to help the defense-first Orange get to the Final Four?
Could he take advantage of the NCAA tournament spotlight to improve NBA teams' opinions of him?
There also was this on Carter-Williams' mind, though: His family home in Massachusetts was hit by a fire last weekend.
``When I'm on the court, or when I'm in practice, all my focus is on my teammates and the team,'' the sophomore said. ``Outside of basketball, I think I can just be there for my family as much as I can. But when it comes time for basketball, everything else is kind of irrelevant. I'm just focused on the team.''
Carter-Williams did a terrific job of dealing with one thing at a time, so much so that he was chosen as the top player in the East Regional for helping No. 4 seed Syracuse beat No. 1 seed Indiana, then No. 3 seed Marquette, to make it to the Final Four for the first time since winning the 2003 NCAA championship.
After a dismal 1-4 stretch to end the Big East regular season, Syracuse (30-9) has won seven of its last eight games and will play Michigan (30-7) - the South Regional's No. 4 seed - in the national semifinals at Atlanta next Saturday. Michigan beat Florida 79-59 Sunday to reach the Final Four.
``We're starting off the games real well. Once we get a lead, we try to build on it. We don't look back. We don't get comfortable. We always put the pressure on the other team,'' Carter-Williams said. ``If they're going to come back, they're going to have to do something spectacular.''
That is thanks to him, in many ways.
For as much attention and praise as Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense has received lately - and rightly so, especially after holding both Indiana and Marquette to season-low point totals - the Orange might not be where they are if it weren't for Carter-Williams' all-around game.
``He's a tremendous, tremendous point guard. He really is,'' said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who is 3-0 in national semifinal games and 1-2 in national title games. ``He keys it for our team.''
In the East Regional final Saturday, Carter-Williams did a little bit of everything, finishing with 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals and only one turnover as Syracuse beat Marquette 55-39. On Thursday, he scored 24 points in a 61-50 victory over Indiana in the regional semifinals.
``I think Michael Carter-Williams, over the last couple of weeks, may be playing the best he's ever played,'' Marquette coach Buzz Williams said, ``and that says a lot, because he's always been really good.''
Didn't really get a chance to prove that last season, though.
As a freshman, Carter-Williams did not start a single game, averaging 2.7 points and 2.1 assists while stuck as Boeheim's fourth choice at guard, behind Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters, who was the No. 4 overall pick in the first round of the NBA draft.
``He struggled at times in practice last year, playing against those guys. What you would figure would be normal. But he showed that he could be a good player last year. There was no doubt about that. This year, once he got his opportunity, from Day 1, he was really good,'' Boeheim said.
``When his shooting gets better, he will be a great player,'' Boeheim added. ``He understands the game. He sees the game. He's got a great feel for the game of basketball.''
All spindly arms and legs while out front of Syracuse's zone, the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams really blossomed this season, ranking third in Division I by averaging 7.6 assists and fourth with 2.7 steals. He also averaged 11.8 points.
Triche, a senior guard, enjoys playing alongside Carter-Williams at both ends of the court.
``He's one of the most competitive guys that I've seen ... going up as high as he can to get the rebounds, tough ones; getting steals and making every (play) possible to win the game,'' Triche said. ``He makes the winning plays - loose balls, things like that. It's not all about points for him. It's all about winning.''
So far, so good in that last category lately.
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