Weather delay does not subdue rivalry hype
The time to dwell on what might have been is over.
There won’t be nearly 22,000 students ringing the Smith Center court or an epic battle between the Tobacco Road boys in blue as a ferocious winter storm rages outside.
Instead, eight days after originally scheduled, Duke’s bus will finally pull up in front of the Smith Center to unload the No. 5 Blue Devils for their first date of the season with North Carolina.
But the delay — the first in the 236-game rivalry — didn’t deflate the Tar Heels.
“You don’t have to psych yourself up, if you do then you’re not breathing,” coach Roy Williams said. “I feel like the dickens, but I do feel like I’m alive.
“The frustrating thing is that you go through all the junk on the game day and the stress and everything, and then you don’t get to play, so you’ve got to do it twice for one game. That’s not fair. They did it last week, and they’ll do it again (today).”
In the time between the original and makeup date, each team picked up two more wins, and UNC (18-7, 8-4 ACC) owns a seven-game win streak.
“We’ve played two more games so that part has helped our confidence, there’s no question,” Williams said. “I thought we were really in a good frame of mind at that point, too, so I’ve tried to just blow that off and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to play next week instead of now and haven’t tried to put too much thought into that and let them think about it.’ Just play basketball.”
UNC enters the game in fourth place in the ACC following two gritty wins against then-No. 25 Pittsburgh Saturday and Florida State on the road Monday.
Against Florida State, reigning ACC Player of the Week James Michael McAdoo was held scoreless and played limited minutes, forcing the team to lean on other weapons — something that will serve it well against a deep and well-balanced Duke (21-5, 10-3 ACC) team.
Eight Blue Devils play more than 10 minutes per game and three average in double figures. Duke is lethal from behind the arc — averaging an ACC best 41.6 percent from long range.
UNC leading scorer Marcus Paige said one of the major keys to controlling the game is clamping down on those 3-point opportunities.
“I’ve watched them a bunch,” he said. “They’re a pretty good team — I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to say that.”
No matter when the game is played or under what conditions, one thing is certain — when the lights dim, the air will crackle with electricity, and everyone will be ready for the 237th edition of a rivalry with unparalleled ferocity.
“The excitement, the nerves, thinking about the game — it will be just as much for this game,” McAdoo said.
“We would have loved to play last week, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be 40 minutes, no matter how many games we’ve won or lost before.”