For 45 years, the North Carolina and Duke women’s basketball teams have driven the 10 miles down Tobacco Road to compete in one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
Since the 1975-76 season, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have suited up in their respective shades of blue and walked onto the court to the screams of huge crowds to face their neighboring rival. The North Carolina-Duke rivalry is a Tar Heel tradition, just like drinking from the Old Well on the first day of classes, climbing the Bell Tower as a senior or graduating in Carolina blue robes on Mother’s Day.
Now, UNC's senior women's basketball players, like so many other students, are learning what to do when traditions are interrupted. Before North Carolina could face the Blue Devils this season, Duke's women's team announced in December that it would be canceling the remainder of its 2020-21 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You didn’t realize the last time you played them was really going to be the absolute last time you played them,” graduate guard Stephanie Watts said.
Watts is returning to Chapel Hill this season after a lone year riddled with injury at the University of Southern California. The guard was excited about many parts of her return to her alma mater, but looking down the schedule, the Duke game stood out.
“(It’s) one of the games where the gym is just completely packed and flowing with energy,” Watts said.
Like Watts, whose return to North Carolina will miss the rivalry magic, senior center Janelle Bailey will also be leaving campus without her final matchup against the Blue Devils. Bailey was a four-year starter for the Tar Heels and hasn’t been victorious against their rivals from Durham since her very first season in Chapel Hill.
Despite the time that's passed since that 92-86 overtime win, Bailey still remembers the energy when Paris Kea led UNC's comeback from a double-digit deficit to upset the Tar Heels' in-state rivals in Carmichael Arena.