The No. 10 Blue Devils look to avoid dropping consecutive games for the first time in three years while trying to prevent the fifth-ranked Tar Heels from a sixth straight win Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.
Tied with No. 15 Florida State atop the ACC, North Carolina (20-3, 7-1) has won five straight by an average margin of 13.8 points since getting routed 90-57 by the Seminoles on Jan. 14. The Tar Heels also are riding a school-record 31-game home winning streak that includes an 81-67 victory over Duke on March 5 that secured last season's ACC regular-season title.
"They can be an offensive juggernaut, and especially at home,'' said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose teams have split the last 10 meetings in Chapel Hill. "So we have to play really good defense in order to have an opportunity to beat them."
That might be a serious challenge for the Blue Devils (19-4, 6-2), who are coming off a 78-74 overtime home loss to Miami on Sunday. Though Duke has won four of five in this series and is 4-0 on the road in the ACC, North Carolina averages a conference-leading 84.1 points. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are giving up 69.1 per contest - their worst since the 2007-08 team allowed an average of 69.4 points - and are last in the conference with opponents shooting 43.8 percent.
"(Defense is) something that we've shown flashes of being good at, and I think it just comes down to being consistent,'' forward Ryan Kelly said. "It has to be a true decision that we're going to be better defensively, and it has to be there every single day.''
However, it was poor shooting on their own part that did in the Blue Devils versus Miami. Seth Curry scored 22 points and freshman Austin Rivers added 20, but Duke shot a season-low 38.2 percent and missed all six of their foul shots in overtime.
Despite that performance, the Blue Devils are confident they can bounce back with a potential season-defining victory in Chapel Hill and avoid losing two in a row for the first time since Feb. 11-15, 2009.
"You've got to move on because this game is a big game for us,'' said Rivers, averaging 16.5 points in the last six games. "If we can get a big win at Carolina, it can turn things around - not like we're going down any bad path. We just struggled (Sunday) with that loss. A big win against Carolina can change a lot of things for us.''
A victory for the Tar Heels would extend an successful run that nearly stalled during Saturday's 83-74 win at Maryland. Tyler Zeller scored 22 points, while Harrison Barnes had 18 on a sore ankle and John Henson added 17 with 12 rebounds as North Carolina overcame a nine-point, second-half deficit.
"I think this will help us a lot,'' said the 7-foot Zeller, averaging 19.5 points in the last four games. "It shows we can be tough enough in the end to be able to make the plays and get the stops we needed.''
Barnes, averaging 19.2 points in the last five contests, had 18 at home versus Duke in North Carolina's only victory in three games against the Blue Devils last season.
Curry averaged 17.7 points and went 11 of 21 from 3-point range against the Tar Heels in 2010-11.