"I can't even tell you how much he's meant to me," says Henderson. "The biggest thing is just every day in practice, us going at each other and making each other better. I don't think anyone else could have done what Wayne's done for me. And socially, he's been my best friend since he's been here. He's always got my back. You can't really measure that either."
That's Henderson as in Gerald, star and leader of this year's Duke team, talking about Wayne as in Ellington, no introduction necessary, back in 2006 when both players were seniors at Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania. I'm sure you'll hear more about this Wednesday, as it's a made-for-talking-heads story and the two players could very well be the most important players on the floor.
The necessity of a good performance from Ellington is no surprise, of course. After the two losses to open the conference season, it was Ellington's twenty-three point second half against Miami that sparked the Heels' resurgence. When he's on, as in his 12 for 15 performance against Maryland or his 9 for 15 against Clemson, UNC wins going away. When he struggles and teams are able to collapse to the interior on Hansbrough, the games are closer than they need to be, as with the 80-77 win over Florida State. Duke's perimeter defense is brutal, save their lapse against Jack McClinton last week; Ellington is going to have to have a great game. He's had trouble against the Blue Devils before, however. In his four games against them, he's managed 4, 3, 8, and 16 points respectively. That won't cut it this season.
Henderson, of course, has had his own problems against UNC. Although not the statistical leader, he's the overwhelming leader on the floor, and it's no surprise that Duke's three losses have come in three of the five games he's sniffed foul trouble (And the fourth was the three point victory over Rhode Island of all teams). Henderson has ben good for ten to sixteen points in his four games against UNC, but has never really excelled, the best game being last March's loss to the Heels. Good wing players haven't particularly burned the Heels this season, but if Henderson has a great game, it doesn't bode well.
Towards the start of the season I was saying this:
Henderson is declared the X Factor, which is a nice way of saying he needs to play better than he actually can. Either that, or its code for "He's gunning for Hansbrough's nose again." You be the judge; either way it doesn't matter.
There I was wrong, and it does matter. But Carolina should be able to contain the shooting-improved Henderson and outlast the still not-there Blue Devils. Look for UNC to pull out the win.