On the biggest stage in college basketball, UNC took down their arch-rival Duke, 81-77, to advance to the national championship game tomorrow night, and end Coach K’s career as the head coach of the Blue Devils. In a game that was impervious to the hype, the best rivalry in sports delivered once again, in a game that could, and should be a promo for the sport of college basketball for years to come. The Tar Heels were led by Caleb Love, and his game-high 28 points, who hit a three-pointer over Mark Williams, which proved to be the dagger for Duke. The 28 points scored by Love, are the most by a UNC player in the Final Four, since James Worthy scored 28, in the 1982 national title game. Armando Bacot recorded his 30th double-double of the season, which gives him 30 on the season and is now the most in ACC history. His 21 rebounds are the most ever by a Tar Heel in a national semifinal or national title game.
Early in the second half, Duke led 41-34, and it felt as if the game was hanging in the balance. UNC responded with a 13-0 to take a six-point lead, and established that the game was going to the wire the rest of the way. When Armando Bacot rolled his ankle with over 5 minutes left, it seemed bleak that he was going to be able to return, but he was able to tough it out, before eventually fouling out. Even without their most dominant big man, Carolina was still able to find a way to prevail, and validate their win over Duke to end the regular season.
It wasn’t the prettiest of offense we’ve seen from the Tar Heels this tournament, as they shot just 42% from the field, but they made up for it by making 10-26 three-pointers, (39%). On the flip side, Carolina’s defense made life equally as hard for Duke, as they also shot 42% from the field, but an even worse 23% from behind the three-point line. UNC won the battle of the boards, 50-41, as the two teams combined for 32 offensive rebounds.
Carolina is now on the brink of a national championship, as their turnaround since the start of February, has taken them to the final Monday of the season. Carolina will be challenged with coming off this emotional high from beating their rival, to prepare for a national title game, but the thing we’ve learned about this team over the last two months, is that we have no reason to doubt, they’ll be ready to go.
Toughness: As much as X’s & O’s won UNC the game, their toughness played a big part in Carolina coming out on top. Their ability to rise to the occasion every time they needed to make plays, is the most satisfying thing to watch as a fan, coach, or just general fan of basketball.
Second Half Caleb Love: For the second time this tournament, Caleb Love turned it on in the second half, and in many ways willed the Tar Heels to victory. He scored 22 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, including a three-over Mark Williams, that will live in Carolina Basketball lore forever. During this run by Carolina, Love has shown the ability to take over games, like guards have to do this time of the season, and there’s no way Carolina would be playing for a national title without him.
Three-Point Shooting: A big part of Carolina’s NCAA Tournament run has been their perimeter shooting, and that continued last night. UNC went 10-26 from behind the three-point line, as UNC has now made double-digit triples in 4 of their 5 tournament games. Last night it was their perimeter defense, as they limited Duke to 23% shooting from behind the arc.
Rebounding: Carolina had to win the rebounding battle to allow them to control the tempo of the game, and they did just that, outrebounding Duke 50-41. Armando Bacot was a grown man on the glass, grabbing 21 rebounds. He had help though, as Leaky Black grabbed 9 total rebounds, including 6 on the offensive glass. R.J. Davis hauled in 7 rebounds as well, to add to the work that Bacot did alone.
Up Next: Carolina will play for the national championship tomorrow night, when they meet blue blood Kansas, in a game that will serve as a salute to Roy Williams. The game will tip at 9:20 on TBS.
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