NEW ORLEANS. Hubert Davis posted a photo of the Caesars Superdome, the venue for this year’s men’s Final Four, in the dressing room of North Carolina on the first day of practice this season.
It was a strong statement for a freshman head coach, especially one who took on the legendary program of Roy Williams, one of the most successful college basketball coaches. But somehow Davis seemed to foresee an endgame in which North Carolina would play for the national title, even if it meant defeating their bitter rival Duke.
“It just shows how much he trusted us and believed in us at the start of the year,” North Carolina guard R. J. Davis said. “He told us we’d be in that position so we can just tell our parents to book tickets to New Orleans right now.”
This rivalry is so divisive that North Carolina gladly played a spoiler in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last home game as pilot of this legendary Duke program, Krzyzewski considered the loss “unacceptable” in an attempt to motivate his team to participate in the postseason.
And, as if it were the script, North Carolina ended Krzyszewski’s college coaching career by holding on after a dizzying array of lead changes to defeat Duke Saturday night, 81-77, and robbing Krzyszewski of his chance to lift championship equipment. the last time on the way from sports.
18 lead changes in the game created a frenzy until the last minute, when Duke center Mark Williams missed a pair of free throws that would have given the Blue Devils the lead, and Caleb Love of North Carolina hit a 3-pointer.
Few people remember how Love missed his first five shots of the game or failed to score a point in the first 15 minutes of the game. Instead, the image that will endure will be a 3-point jumper with 25 seconds left, a shot that wrecked the Blue Devils’ chances and sealed North Carolina’s spot in the NCAA championship game. The Tar Heels will face Kansas, who easily beat Villanova earlier Saturday, Monday night.
“Very few guys in this situation are looking for such a hit. Caleb is one of them,” Davis said. “He has the confidence to be able to knock him down.”
That basket ended Krzyzewski’s historic 1980 career that included the most wins of any coach in men’s college basketball, and is credited with decades of building NBA talent, from Grant Hill to Kyrie Irving and more. Besides Duke, Krzyzewski also captained the US men’s basketball team. from 2005 to 2016 and won three Olympic gold medals.
After the game, Krzyzewski mentioned that his players were emotional after the loss. He obviously wasn’t there.
“I think when you have three daughters, 10 grandchildren and you’ve been through a lot,” he said, “you’re used to caring about the feelings of the people you love and are responsible for. And that’s where I am. And I’m sure someday I’ll figure it out in my own way.”
The scale of the game could be felt long before the teams were warned. The introduction of the players was barely audible over the roar of the crowd. Superdomewhich accommodates almost 75,000 people, dressed in blueboth the sky and the fleet.
The Blue Devils, led by a talented team that includes three freshmen projected to enter the NBA draft at the end of the season – Paolo Banquero, Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin – have at times looked in control, although as expected , in such a game, not a single team came off.
Bunchero, a 6-foot-10 forward who can score in many ways, did just that against North Carolina, lifting up for threes and throwing hard dunks as the Tar Heels watched him slide past them towards the rim.
But the Tar Heels were determined to once again seize this moment from Duke and Krzyzewski in hopes of a seventh national title in their 12th championship game.
Thus, they matched the energy of the determined Blue Devils and their passionate fans. They took advantage of Duke’s big men spending time on the bench, with backfire. Lyubov, who scored 14 points in the 8/8 finals against St. Petersburg. Peter and 30 against UCLA landed seven hits in a row to start the second half, turning the Tar Heels’ halftime deficit to three points early in the period.
Armando Backot, one of the center players on North Carolina’s run to the Finals, took advantage of Duke’s smaller lineup when his big players weren’t on the floor, using his 6ft 10in, 240lb body to hit near the rim and out. 21 rebounds.
Duke knew all season that this would be Krzyzewski’s last matchup and the players did their best to delay his retirement by beating UC Fullerton, Michigan, Texas Institute of Technology and Arkansas to advance to Saturday’s semi-finals. And Krzyzewski showed a range of emotions in his final practice performance.
Sometimes he would stand, almost stoically watching his players hit balls. Then he resumed his seat on the tiny wooden stool next to Duke’s bench, rocking back and forth as the teams ran up and down the court.
But after the game, Krzhizhevsky never deviated from the representative expression that he so often displayed. He took the spotlight off his players when he was asked to take stock of his career. He spoke with a calmness that expressed peace at the way it ended.
“I’ll be fine,” Krzyzewski said. “I was lucky to be in the arena. And when you’re in the arena, you either walk out in a great mood or you feel agony. But you will always feel great being in the arena.”
He added, “And I’m sure I’ll look back and miss it: I won’t be in the arena anymore.”