CHAPEL HILL — As thousands of fans and students waited outside the Dean E. Smith Center Saturday afternoon, there was a sense that this rivalry — Duke vs. North Carolina — was just a little more important than others in college basketball.
The rivalry will play out for the 261st time Saturday as Duke and Carolina square off as top-10 opponents for the 49th time.
For two of North Carolina’s seniors — Armando Bacot and RJ Davis — the rivalry is a familiar one.
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Both players were part of the 2021-22 North Carolina team that handed legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski a loss in his final game before retirement. Duke’s loss in the Final Four in New Orleans came one month after the Tar Heels defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Krzyzewski’s final home game.
Bacot and Davis joined ESPN’s “College Gameday” Saturday and revealed which of the two victories they cherish most.
“To me, it has to be Coach K’s last game at Duke,” Davis said when asked which of the two victories was most satisfying. “We went into that game with no one thinking we’d be able to win it. But we came out on top, and we were super confident going into that game.”
Bacot, who called the matchup the “greatest rivalry in all of sports,” agreed with Davis ahead of his final home game against the Blue Devils.
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“For me, definitely the one at Duke,” Bacot said. “Seeing guys like Jay Williams, JJ Reddick, all those guys come back, and they’re wearing their ‘K’ shirt. And just to see the look on their face after the game … one of the best feelings. They thought they would have a good night out in Durham that day. So, we got it done.”
The renewal of the rivalry will have major implications in the ACC race as North Carolina looks to avoid a second straight loss and Duke attempts to get even with the Tar Heels in the loss column.
“I think this is my last time playing Duke here,” Bacot said. “So, got to make sure we get that W.”
To snap a two-game home losing streak to Duke, the Tar Heels will need to contain Blue Devils sophomore Kyle Filipowski, who is seventh in the ACC with 17.5 points per game.
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“Just his ability on the offensive end as a five is just very difficult because he can handle the basketball,” North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis said of Filipowski Thursday. “He’s almost … he’s a point guard. His ability to be able to pass, he can get a rebound [and] advance the ball up the floor and make plays. Anybody with that type of size, he’s aggressive. He can draw fouls. He can shoot from three. He can post up. He can put the ball on the floor.
“So, it’s hard to get the ball out of his hands. [It’s] hard to double him. Because he can catch the ball and attack in so many different areas.”
Duke and North Carolina tip off at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday.