UNC vs. Kansas: Tar Heels confident they won’t be drained for NCAA title game after emotional win vs. Duke

NEW ORLEANS — As the final horn sounded inside the Superdome to signal the end of North Carolina’s 81-77 victory over Duke in an epic Final Four finale on Saturday night, UNC stars RJ Davis and Leaky Black ran to a corner of the court and grabbed their Carolina blue jerseys to show off the large contingent of Tar Heels fans in a section just feet away from the raised court. Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, Brady Manek and the rest of the team, including the coaching staff, quickly joined them in jubilation.

There’s no celebration like a Final Four celebration, but this one? This was different.

This was the exhilaration reserved for a win over an opponent on college basketball’s biggest stage. For punching a ticket to the title game and ending the career of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski in the the most anticipated Final Four game in college basketball history.

UNC’s victory over Duke it had all the thrills of winning a championship and then some, minus the shower of confetti and the net being cut. So how will she respond with less than 48 hours to prepare for No. 1 seed Kansas for the NCAA championship on Monday night?

Taking down this Duke team was no cakewalk. We’re talking about a team with as many as five potential first-round picks. It was a battle with late leadership changes and momentum shifts that could have gone either way. In the end, you could see the energy and relief draining from the UNC side after the victory. A giant collective exhalation after a rowdy lead-up to an all-time game. Are you really up for one more of these?

This Tar Heels team seems to think it may be. However, categorizing the joy of victory and preparing for Kansas is challenging. they have must be running on empty emotionally. But UNC coach Hubert Davis said Saturday that to get the best out of this team, you have to make them constantly play on emotional fire, which in part has separated a Carolina team that was doing well earlier in the year from the that has gone all the way to the title fight. Maybe carrying all the emotions is part of the plan.

“I don’t think you can play this game without emotion,” Davis said. “I felt like at the beginning of the year we were constantly not playing with emotion. And then that changed.”

And so did the Tar Heels season. They have won 17 of their last 20 games before Monday’s season finale. But the quick change after what Saturday’s kind of win, with coaches high fives on the court, shaking fists at no one in particular, players reacting as if they’ve just won one of the biggest games in the history of the game, it’s a special test. You certainly didn’t see the Kansas staff or players react that way after taking Villanova down, but then again, Duke-UNC was a different animal altogether. Completely different.

The mettle of this team has already been tested in this tournament but not as much as it will be in the next 36 hours. They’ll have little time to fill up the tank, search for Kansas and team up one last time to potentially make history as the second No. 8 seed to win it all. Emotionally drained and physically strained, almost certainly, but experiencing the full range of emotions. together. It’s a place that Davis feels puts UNC in a great position.

“The last two, two and a half months, the coming together of this team, the health of this team has been at an all-time high,” he said. “We’re so connected on and off the court. And that doesn’t guarantee wins, but it puts you in a position to maybe do something special. That’s what these kids are doing right now.”

How well Carolina can walk away from one of the biggest wins in the show’s history may well determine how well she plays on Monday and whether she can finish her storied run as champion. There will be time to celebrate, eventually, how magical these past few weeks have been for Davis and his freshman team. Although not now. Kansas, and a shot at the college basketball crown, awaits here in the Big Easy.

“There are a number of things that I’m looking forward to processing,” Davis said. “But it’s not the time to do that right now. The time right now is to stay focused and keep looking at what we need to do to play our best.” [Monday] evening. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about.”

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