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The Daily Tar Heel

Tar Heels Could Face Hellacious Game

That's nice, but it won't help No. 4 North Carolina tonight when it travels to Durham for a 9 p.m. showdown with second-ranked Duke.

"I'm expecting a hostile crowd, a great game," forward Kris Lang said. "It's going to be very intense and hot."

"It's a hostile crowd, hot," point guard Ronald Curry said.

Cameron is one of the hottest locations in college basketball. That will happen when 9,314 screaming people are crammed into a tiny gym.

But the lack of air conditioning isn't the only reason the building is hot. The players in Duke uniforms push up the mercury with their in-your-face defense and penetration-based offense.

They run off 10 or 15 points in a row with little trouble. Defensively, they create turnovers by challenging every pass. Offensively, they convert those turnovers into points via transition layups and long 3-pointers.

Combine the chaos created by that style of play with the noise generated by a chanting and jumping student body, and Cameron Indoor Stadium is pure hell for opponents. Duke is 613-134 (.821 winning percentage) all-time in the building and 262-44 (.856) at home under Mike Krzyzewski.

"This place definitely has a great vibe to it," Duke guard Jason Williams said. "When you're on the court and the Cameron Crazies are yelling, they're jumping up and down, you definitely get a certain kind of chill in your body and goosebumps."

While the Blue Devils are experiencing that chill of euphoria, their opponents are feeling the heat. The Tar Heels must find a way to keep their cool if they are to avoid becoming another victim of Cameron's madness.

UNC will find its biggest shade tree by taking care of the basketball. The Blue Devils play a swarming man-to-man defense all 94 feet of the court. They force 20.7 turnovers per game and average 11.1 steals.

The man under the gun will be Curry, who has not played his best basketball recently. He had trouble against N.C. State's full-court press Sunday, turning the ball over four times.

"Hopefully that's behind me now," Curry said. "I have to pick my game up."

As UNC's starting quarterback, Curry has plenty of experience eluding pressure. But he has not faced the kind of quickness on the hardwood that Duke's Williams and Chris Duhon possess.

Williams, perhaps the leading candidate to become national player of the year, is Duke's catalyst. He sets the tone on defense but is also a major factor in the pressure the Blue Devils apply offensively.

Williams (21.3 points per game) leads a group of Duke starters who all average more than 12 points per game, shoot better than 50 percent from the field and make at least 73 percent of their free throws.

"That's what makes them so dangerous," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "You can't cheat off of anybody. You look at their stats, and it's incredible."

Doherty is right. The Blue Devils convert 41.1 percent of their 3-point shots and lead the nation with 10.6 3-pointers per game. They shoot from anywhere at anytime, stretching defenses to their breaking points.

"We take what the defense gives us," Duke senior guard Nate James said. "If we're open, we shoot the ball. I don't think we take that many bad shots.

"If the defense presents us with an open 3 or a shot, then we're going to take it. We're going to use all of the bullets in our gun."

So far, the strategy has worked. The Blue Devils rank second in the nation in scoring (93.9 points per game) and lead the NCAA with a 24.1-point average winning margin.

The one time Duke's gun has misfired, an 84-83 loss against Stanford on Dec. 21, the Cardinal countered the Blue Devils' nonstop pressure with size and strength. It's a combination the Tar Heels possess.

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It's also one they think can help them escape hell with a win.

"I haven't experienced it," UNC forward Jason Capel said. "But I'm planning to on Thursday."

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