CHAPEL HILL, N.C. —- For Armando Bacot, this UNC-Duke game is special.
Arguably the best rivalry in college sports, it’s a testament to the rich tapestry of basketball. It transcends the court, reflecting a cultural phenomenon that values excellence, skill and the spirit of collegiate athletics. The annual clashes between the two blue bloods showcase the beauty of the game and for Bacot, he must soak up these final moments and leave each matchup victorious.
After getting swept by them last year, Bacot reflected on the impact former Blue Devil Dereck Lively II had on his game.
“I thought he guarded me better than any player I played in college, because he has such a high motor and was obviously so athletic and he was taller than what I thought,” said Bacot. “I thought last year he was their best player and he’s another guy who didn’t show up on the stat sheet and you didn’t think he was
doing as good, but now in the NBA, just the way he affected the rim defensively, it was going over there,” Bacot continued. “He probably had 20 blocked shots. It was crazy. It was crazy.”
Lively isn’t the only Duke foe that he has history with. Armando has played with Jeremy Roach since he was in seventh grade.
Another crazy coincidence.
“We played AAU all the way up, he’s a great player,” he said. “I love playing against him and he always has a great game against us, so I need him to play bad.”
Last season, Roach put up 20 points in the team’s first meeting on Feb. 3, 2023 and 10 the following March. He’s been a staple for the Blue Devils this year as well, averaging 13.9 points per game, slightly above Bacot who is averaging 13.4.
While Bacot isn’t playing to his usual caliber, his numbers aren’t too concerning and this game isn’t like any other game. He knows there’s a lot on the line.
“I know how much it means to the fans, to us, to the former players,” Bacot said. “It gives you bragging rights until the next time we play them. So it was one of those things when you just want to win and you grow up watching the rivalry and every time you play it, it just feels like there’s more at stake.”
He put up double-digit performances in all of his games against Duke, with his highest scoring outing occurring on Mar. 5, 2022 when he totaled 23 points and seven boards to help North Carolina to a 94-81 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium – spoiling Coach K’s retirement party in the process.
Bacot’s history shows that he’s gonna do what he needs to do to impact the game and his desire to come out on top is as strong as can be. He says he prefers those wins to be at home, but however many times the Tar Heels face the Devils, even if it’s a third time in the postseason, he’s intent on winning no matter what.
“The Austin Rivers shot was pretty crazy,” Bacot responded when asked about some of his favorite moments from the rivalry—none that included ones he created himself. “I remember Tatum dunking on Kennedy Meeks, that was pretty crazy. Coming to UNC watching us beat them my senior year in high school when Harrison got the big dunk.”
Needless to say, in order for the Tar Heels to pull out a win, Bacot will need to have another one of his big moments. His defense this season has been the best it’s been as a Tar Heel, but he’s got to regain his relentless rebounding intensity and opportune shot making ability to shut out the Blue Devils at home.
For North Carolina, continued success is crucial to keeping them atop the ACC and a victory over Duke will only add to the university’s enduring legacy of triumph in what promises to be a sensational showdown.