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Wednesday June 29th

Duke to host UNC as the battle of Tobacco Road continues on the court

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There are few venues comparable to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

It’s loud. It’s intimidating. It’s crowded. For the North Carolina men’s basketball team, it’s decorated in a more ominous shade of blue.

Duke rivalry

Read more about the UNC-Duke rivalry from years past.

And today at 9 p.m., it will be filled to capacity with more than 9,000 fans who want to see nothing short of a dismantling of the Tar Heels.

“When we drove in the parking lot — it was my sophomore year — they were throwing things at the bus,” senior guard Dexter Strickland said.

“And I was like, ‘Wow, we can’t even get a nice entrance to the gym.’ That was just a sample of how the fans are deeply involved and how intense the games be.”

The intensity will be at a fever pitch for 2013’s first installment of arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports.

No. 2 Duke (21-2, 8-2) will host a North Carolina (16-7, 6-4) team that is looking for its first win in Durham as an unranked team since 1990.

Coach Roy Williams said he wants his team to play the Blue Devils with an intensity that matches the environment.

“If my team’s not fired up tomorrow, I’m going to send them all over to the morgue and see if they have enough boxes ready for them,” Williams said. “Gosh, we’ll find out, but that’s what you play the games for.

“And we will know a lot more at 11:30 (tonight).”

For many of the Tar Heels, this will be their first experience of the rivalry. And while trips to Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., and PNC Arena in Raleigh were intense in their own rights, there is something different about going to Cameron.

That experience, though, can only help.

“We’ve played in some pretty hostile environments this year — at Indiana, at N.C. State,” freshman point guard Marcus Paige said. “We’re used to the crazy environment.

“I understand this is a little bit different level, but at the same time, it’s still a basketball game, and the crowd is still rowdy so you have to fight past that.”

The Tar Heels will be fighting past that rowdiness without freshman big man Joel James as he suffered a concussion last week against Wake Forest.

That means North Carolina will have one fewer body to help defend Duke’s leading scorer and rebounder Mason Plumlee.

The Blue Devil senior forward is averaging a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds a game.

On the perimeter, Seth Curry has also had a strong year as the team’s second leading scorer. Curry provides Duke with what Williams believes is their greatest strength — balance.

“It’ll be a great challenge for us,” Williams said. “Believe it or not, we’re really looking forward to it, I am.

“I hope the guys in the short pants are looking forward to it, too.”

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