North Carolina

North Carolina aims to finish strong vs. skidding Duke

A good way to turn the page from recent disappointments for Duke and North Carolina is to play each other.

They both could use a victory to end the regular season.

The longtime rivals meet Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., with an emphasis on bolstering their NCAA Tournament credentials because there’s not much at stake in terms of high seeds for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

North Carolina (15-9, 9-6 ACC) is still trying to shake the turnover bug that won’t go away.

“The most frustrating part of this season with me is not getting a better handle on turnovers and stop turning the ball over,” coach Roy Williams said.

Duke (11-10, 9-8) has lost consecutive games, and its postseason prospects appear in limbo.

“There’s no other alternative except to work and play hard to win,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We feel down, but we’ve got to keep working. Our program is about that.”

North Carolina followed last Saturday’s comeback victory against No. 11 Florida State with Monday night’s two-point defeat at Syracuse.

For the Tar Heels, Duke will be the fourth team this season that they’ve played twice. They’ve split with the other three opponents (North Carolina State, Florida State and Syracuse).

Just as they went into the first meeting a month earlier, both teams enter the matchup coming off a loss.

North Carolina won 91-87 in the first clash of the season in Durham. In some ways, that was just like the other seven conference setbacks for Duke, which has fallen by margins of seven points or less in each ACC defeat.

The last two losses came in overtime.

“You’re almost having a really good year, and instead you’re having a .500 year,” Krzyzewski said.

Despite the frustrations, the next game comes against the rival Tar Heels.

“We got to stay positive, keep our heads up and focus on Carolina,” said Duke’s Mark Williams, who’s fresh off a season-high 20-point outing at Georgia Tech.

North Carolina used perimeter success in the first meeting with Duke, hitting a season-best percentage on 3-pointers by bagging 10 of 15 attempts.

Duke has a different type of post presence now with Williams playing significant minutes.

“With the Williams kid, you’ve got to be concerned about where he is,” Roy Williams said. “And in one of the last games, I saw a stat sheet where he was 9-for-9 from the floor. … So, I think that they’re much stronger as a whole team right now with him playing more minutes.”

Krzyzewski said he expects the Blue Devils will continue to give spirited performances.

“They will keep fighting and we’ve got to do that again on Saturday,” he said. “Every time we line up, that’s what we have to do. Our guys have done that. Over the years, we’ve been very fortunate, so I don’t know if the basketball gods are evening things up a little bit.”

With a 6-0 home record in ACC games, the Tar Heels join first-place Florida State as the only teams in the league with unblemished conference home marks.

After facing coach Jim Boeheim and his Syracuse squad, North Carolina will become the first team in college basketball history to play consecutive games in matchups of 900-win, Hall-of-Fame coaches. Williams earned his 900th win last month, joining Boeheim and Krzyzewski in the rare club.

–Field Level Media

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