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"It's at their place, which to me is a great thing because they beat us here so it'd be nice to go over there and beat them," Tyler Hansbrough said.
The Feb. 7 loss to Duke at the Smith Center was a tough pill for Tar Heel nation to swallow. Not because Carolina was expected to win -- far from it -- but rather because the Heels outplayed the Blue Devils in many facets of the game and narrowly missed pulling off the huge upset.
Trailing by 17 points early the second half, UNC roared back to take a five-point lead with 4:33 to go. And even after Duke took control and was up by seven with 56 seconds remaining, the Tar Heels still didn't quit, battling back with ferocious defense and came within a loose ball of a potentially game-winning possession.
Carolina dominated the boards, held All-American Shelden Williams in check and yet came up short. The lesson? Had the Tar Heels taken better care of the ball (21 TOs), they would have won the game.
"It's amazing after you watch the tape when you go back and see what the score would have been if we hadn't made so many mistakes," said Marcus Ginyard.
For the 2004-05 Tar Heels, a February loss to Duke was the turning point in the season. It appears the same can be said about this year's Carolina team.
While the loss to Duke last month was discouraging, many aspects of UNC's performance foreshadowed the improved play that would follow.
"It gave us a lot of confidence," Danny Green said of the loss. "That proved that we could play with any team out there and from there we knew what we were capable of."
And the Tar Heels haven't lost since then, winning six in a row, including the last three by an average of 31 points.
How much better is Carolina now? Just ask Virginia head coach Dave Leitao, who beat the Heels in mid-January and then lost to the same team by 45 points on Wednesday. "They were a thousand times better," Leitao said after being routed by the improved squad.
Emotions always run high in a UNC-Duke game, but this night is likely to be even more so at Cameron Indoor Stadium, as it's senior night for J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.
Roy Williams watched Redick drop 35 points in the Smith Center last month and has little doubt the ACC's all-time leading scorer will do more of the same this time around.
"Think about it - we're playing Duke at Duke, Cameron Indoor Stadium, last game of the year, senior game, J.J.'s last game. I don't really think it's going to be a bad night for the boy," UNC's coach said.
As the Cameron Crazies say farewell to Redick and Williams, the school's all-time leading shotblocker, they are sure to be worked into their usual frenzy and then some.
"I'm expecting there to be a lot of crazy fans, the atmosphere will be wild, and it'll be really hot," Danny Green summed up.
This young Tar Heel team has been remarkably poised away from the Smith Center this season, with a 6-1 conference road record and wins in tough venues such as Kentucky, NC State and Maryland. But they all pale in comparison to Saturday night's atmosphere.
"They know what it's going to be like [but] I don't think you can prepare them," Roy Williams said.
A nationally syndicated sports talk show host said on Friday that Saturday's game "wasn't very important in the grande scheme of things." After all, Duke has locked up the ACC regular season title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Carolina can finish no lower than third in the conference and is a lock for a good seed in the NCAAs.
But anyone who thinks that knows little about the greatest rivalry in college basketball. After all, ESPN clearly knows the game's value, which is why they're covering this game live on three -- yes, three -- of their stations.
"I'm hoping it's going to be a great game," Roy Williams said. "I'm hoping it'll go right down to the end, I'm hoping it'll be a game people will talk about for a long time."
If all the previous UNC-Duke games in the Roy Williams era are any indication, this one is sure to be all of the above.