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The Daily Tar Heel

Blue Devils' Confidence Leads to Redemption

"Walk off like we came here to win," Collins said.

The reminder, which came with 1:15 left in the game, was one that many didn't expect No. 2 Duke to need in its matchup against fourth-ranked North Carolina.

That's because the Blue Devils entered the game as an underdog.

"At Duke, you're not put in that position. Pretty much not ever," Duke forward Shane Battier said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski added, "I would think probably more people thought we would lose here today than win."

But Duke, coming off a loss to Maryland and playing without center Carlos Boozer, remained confident. The Blue Devils played what they call Duke basketball -- 40 minutes of running and gunning and trapping.

And in the end, Duke left the Smith Center with a 95-81 victory. It avenged its Feb. 1 loss to North Carolina, proved it could still win without Boozer and won a share of its fifth consecutive ACC regular season title.

"We knew we could win," Duke guard Chris Duhon said. "That's why we kept our championship look. That's why you didn't see us celebrating after the game."

It's that confidence Duhon spoke of that helped the Blue Devils never look back from a two-point halftime advantage. It's that confidence that allowed them to push their lead to as many as 19 points.

And it's that confidence that could give Duke a slight edge in this weekend's ACC Tournament despite the fact that UNC owns the top seed.

"You finish off the season with a big win and go into the tournament as ACC champs -- it's a lot of momentum," Duke swingman Mike Dunleavy said.

North Carolina will enter the tournament headed in a little different direction.

A win against Duke would have given UNC its first outright ACC title since 1993. It would have moved the Tar Heels a little closer to earning them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and possibly landed them in the East Region of the bracket in Greensboro.

But the reality is a loss. UNC's third in the last five games after winning 18 straight.

"It's disappointing we lost three games, but we're still the regular season champions, and nobody can take that away from us," UNC forward Jason Capel said. "We're still the No. 1 seed going into the tournament, and we just have to have the mind-set that we can do it."

The Tar Heels will have just four days to get into that state of mind before they tip off Friday at the ACC tourney.

"We have to move on quickly," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "It won't do us any good right now to get mad.

"Heck, we've had a heckuva regular season. Would we like to be the sole owners of first place? Yeah. But all of our goals from the beginning of the season are still intact."

Those goals included winning the regular season, the ACC Tournament and the national championship.

Check the first one off. To accomplish the second, UNC might have to face Duke.

Is that prospect of revenge something the Tar Heels would relish?

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"We want to win the ACC championship," UNC guard Joseph Forte said. "If that means Duke, which you've come to expect, then yes."

And it all starts with confidence. Duke had that swagger coming into Sunday's game and built on it. North Carolina needs to regain some.

"We just have to regroup," Forte said. "We'll be fine. All we have to do is win a couple of games and people will be back on the bandwagon again."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.