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‘I’m a Tar Heel for life’: A look at Caleb Love's lasting legacy in the UNC-Duke rivalry

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Arizona senior guard Caleb Love (2) dribbles the ball during the men's basketball game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. Arizona beat Duke 78-73. Photo Courtesy of Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics.

With 25 seconds on the clock, the ball left the hands of then-UNC guard Caleb Love and seconds later, North Carolina was up by four. Afterward, Love embraced guard RJ Davis with a smile wiped across his face — UNC had just earned a lead that advanced them to the NCAA National Championship game with an 81-77 victory over Duke. 

Although Love no longer wears a North Carolina jersey, his impact on the UNC-Duke rivalry has a place of its own in UNC basketball history. 

The Cameron killer

In his three years at UNC, Love played in seven games against Duke. On March 5, 2022, Love’s 22-point performance helped spoil Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, leading the Tar Heels to a 94-81 win. 

Whether it was his high scoring games or the clutch NCAA final four performance, Love left Tar Heel fans with plenty of rivalry moments to cherish. 

In his return to Durham in early November — this time playing for the Arizona Wildcats in a 78-73 win over Duke — Love stepped onto the court with a message for all basketball fans. On the bottom of his Nike sneakers, below the light blue swoosh, he wrote "Tar Heel 4L." 

On to the next 

North Carolina faced high expectations for the 2022 season with 13 players returning to the team. However, the Tar Heels' hopes at another title run quickly spiraled downwards. The team became the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA tournament since 1985. 

On March 27 of last year, Love announced he was entering the transfer portal. In his post, Love reflected on his time at UNC and stated that he would begin searching for the next place he would play. 

He first committed to Michigan in April, but decommitted in mid-May due to an admissions issue. 

Then, less than two weeks later, Love announced his commitment to Arizona. The Wildcats finished the 2022-23 season 28-7 overall and won the Pac-12 conference tournament. 

In a statement Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd made to the press, he called Love a “tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” as reported by The Associated Press. 

With the Wildcats 

Since joining the Wildcats roster, Love has been a key factor in their offense, averaging 19 points and 3.1 assists per game. 

Arizona currently sits at No. 11 in the rankings with a 16-5 overall record. Love leads the team in points, 3-pointers, field goals and free throws.

After a close loss at Washington State in mid-January, Lloyd acknowledged that Love never shies away from the tough moments. 

“I think it’s simple — Caleb is a competitive guy,” Lloyd said after the game. “When he gets in those moments, he’s not afraid to shoulder the burden.”

On Saturday, Jan. 27, Love dropped a career-high 36 points on 12-18 shooting, including 5-8 from three in Arizona’s 87-78 win at Oregon.

The Tar Heels since

In UNC's first season without Love, Davis has led the way for the Tar Heels in scoring while graduate forward Armando Bacot is recording team-high rebounds and blocks. The addition of first-year guard Elliot Cadeau has been pivotal in the success of the team, as he leads the Tar Heels in most assists per game. 

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On Feb. 3, No. 3 North Carolina will take on No. 7 Duke in Chapel Hill. The game will give the Tar Heels a chance at redemption after last year's two regular season losses against Duke. 

And in spite of a long journey, Love knows which side he'll be rooting for. 

“I’m a Tar Heel for life,” Love said following Arizona’s win at Duke. “Regardless of what our differences is, or what happened in the past, I still got love for Tar Heel nation.”

@mayawaid

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com