The University of North Carolina Tar Heels are heading to the national championship game. Let that sink in. It’s a freakin’ awesome feeling.
Getting to the final game of the season is a massive accomplishment in any season for any team. For Carolina this season, there was a time when many thought they might not even make it into this tournament. Then they fought their way all the way to the Final Four, having to go through their most hated rival full of hunger to get revenge over the Tar Heels crashing their Coach’s retirement party a month earlier.
A lot of people thought — and maybe hoped — that we’d never live long enough to see UNC and Duke meet in the tournament. The winner would be insufferable forever. The game in Cameron Indoor was so sweet, but it would have had a bitter footnote if the Tar Heels had lost this one with even higher stakes.
Caleb Love had perhaps the biggest shot of the season with a late three that put UNC up for good after a dogfight of relentless back-and-forth over the last couple minutes. Duke started to foul and Love continued to make his free throws to seal the victory for his team and Hubert Davis. Caleb really took over in the second half of the game after a fairly quiet first half on his way to 28 points to lead the team.
Carolina needed all of Love’s heroics because Armando Bacot rolled his ankle and then fouled out after recording another double-double, as is tradition. He had 11 points and an incredible 21 rebounds. RJ Davis had 18 points and managed foul trouble late, dishing out four assists as well. Brady Manek didn’t have the scoring night that we’ve come to expect of him in this tournament, but he had a couple massive three-pointers on his way to 14 important points.
The Blue Devils had to manage a decent amount of foul trouble of their own with Theo John picking up four fouls in the first half as he tried to buy minutes on the bench for Mark Williams, who had two early fouls. The one-two punch of Paolo Banchero (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Trevor Keels off the bench (19 points) made up for the struggles of AJ Griffin and Jeremy Roach. The game was back and forth throughout with more lead changes than a heart should have to endure.
For everyone watching the game who didn’t have an emotional investment in the outcome, everything about it lived up to the billing. For those of us who were living and dying with every shot, it was excruciating. I couldn’t be happier that my team came out on top of it, but I’m not sure my breathing has returned to normal even now.
It is an incredible day to be a Tar Heel.
The time to recover from all this is short, though, as UNC will play Kansas for the national championship on Monday. Who could have imagined that would be true a few months ago? What a ride.