The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Boozer Injury Creates Puzzle For Duke, UNC

North Carolina and Duke? Throw out the records -- this is war. Ignore how well or poorly we've been playing before this point. None of it will matter once tipoff happens.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.

But this time all of that talk is more than just cliche.

The second-ranked Blue Devils (25-4, 12-3 in the ACC) will be without starting center Carlos Boozer, who has an injured foot, when they visit Chapel Hill on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. for a showdown with No. 4 UNC (23-4, 13-2).

And no one is sure what to expect.

Will Duke, the NCAA's most prolific 3-point shooting team (10.6 per game), attempt even more long-range bombs than usual? Will the Blue Devils use three or four guards at one time and play 6-foot-8 Shane Battier at center? Can Duke reserves Casey Sanders and Matt Christensen play big minutes without hurting the team?

"I don't know, to be honest with you," UNC forward Jason Capel said. "I think Duke's going to play their game. They'll still shoot a lot of 3s, be very aggressive on defense, and we don't expect anything different. It's a big loss, but I think they're going to step up and play well."

The stakes are high enough -- that much is certain. The Blue Devils can claim a share of the ACC regular-season title if they knock off UNC. The two teams also are still battling for the top seed in the East Region for the NCAA tournament.

Boozer won't return until NCAAs after fracturing the third metatarsal in his right foot in Duke's 91-80 loss to Maryland on Tuesday night. Doctors will re-evaluate him in two weeks, but Boozer could be out of action for three or more weeks, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday.

The Blue Devils have loads of talent but lack depth, especially up front. That's what makes Boozer's absence so critical.

Sanders, a 6-11 sophomore, and Christensen, a 6-10 junior, are Boozer's likely replacements. They have combined to average 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds this season. Boozer averages 14.0 points and 6.5 boards and also leads the ACC in field-goal percentage (.602).

He averaged less than five points in losses to Stanford, UNC and Virginia earlier in the season, underscoring how important he is to Duke. The Blue Devils will rely on their 3-point touch (.403) against the Tar Heels to make up for their lost production in the paint.

"We're going to shoot 3s," Krzyzewski said. "We shoot it more than anybody because we can do it well. That's a strength. If we do it well, we have a chance to beat anybody, including North Carolina on Sunday."

That's what UNC senior center Brendan Haywood and his teammates will try to prevent. Haywood will be playing his last home game at the Smith Center and wants to go out in style.

Boozer's injury would seem to open the door for Haywood to have a monster game, but the opposite could be true.

If Krzyzewski doesn't play Sanders and Christensen, Battier could be his center. Battier has the skills of a small forward, and Haywood can't guard him outside.

"That's going to concern me most," Haywood said. "I don't want to chase him out away from the basket."

Duke's lineup in such a situation -- Battier, 6-8 Mike Dunleavy and 6-6 Nate James at forward, and 6-1 Chris Duhon and 6-2 Jason Williams in the backcourt -- would be scary with its shooting and pressure defense capabilities.

It would be one of fastest and best ball-handling units the ACC has seen. It also could limit the minutes of Haywood and 6-11 Kris Lang.

"It could make them a more dangerous team," UNC guard Ronald Curry said. "I know Battier played some (center) last game. If he gets going and they've got five guys out there who can shoot 3s instead of four, it may help them."

That's what Krzyzewski is banking on. And while much of the pregame hype focuses on the Duke center who won't play, Krzyzewski will instead concern himself with the Blue Devils who will.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Sure, things could be better for his team. But Duke is still Duke. There's a reason the Blue Devils are one win away from a fifth straight ACC crown.

"We have weapons," Krzyzewski said. "We can put points up on the board. As long as you can do that, you have a chance to win basketball games."

The Sports Editor can be reached at