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February 9, 2010
Heels look to right ship against Duke
North Carolina has regained the upper-hand in recent years in its nearly century-long battle on the basketball court with arch-rival Duke, winning seven out of the last 10 games in the series going back to the 2004-2005 season.
However, when the teams take the floor Wednesday night in the Smith Center for the renewal of their Tobacco Road rivalry, most everyone that have been following the two teams this season will project that Duke (19-4, 7-2 ACC) will have its way with struggling UNC (13-10, 2-6 ACC) and get the rivalry painted a darker shade of blue once again.
For UNC's beleaguered players, who are in the midst of one of the program's worst streaks of futility in recent years---dropping six out of seven ACC games and seven out of eight overall---nothing would get things back on track better than a win over the despised Blue Devils.
"This could be a turning point for us, just to get back on a good track, but we're just going to take it one game at a time. We just have Duke, and that's all we're focused on right now," said sophomore forward Ed Davis.
"Most definitely I think that this game definitely has a lot of weight on it. If we come out here and we play hard the way I know we can play and everything goes according to plan this could definitely have a big impact on our program right now," said sophomore guard Larry Drew II.
"I know Duke is going to be looking to come in here and get a win---I think we've beat them the last three times---and we're going to be really excited about another opportunity to try to get things turned around," said senior guard Marcus Ginyard. "It's exciting. These are the games that you've really got to get excited about and you've got to look forward to---a good rivalry game---and I don't see why we shouldn't be excited."
"I think we lost (to Duke) once in my four years here, so I've been enjoying the winning part of it. You want to win games and keep winning," said senior forward Deon Thompson. "There's something about it. Of course it's a big-time rivalry and Carolina has definitely been dominating that rivalry and we want to keep that going."
One thing that should add to the excitement level on the part of the Tar Heel players and those fans fortunate enough to have a ticket to the game is the fact they'll get to watch Tyler Hansbrough's No. 50 officially retired and his jersey presented in the rafters.
"It will energize the building more and the team, because I think they (the UNC fans) might like him (Hansbrough) more than they like (Michael) Jordan around here," said Davis. "So it's going to energize the building a lot."
"I think it's definitely going to raise the energy level in the whole arena and everything, because Tyler is Tyler, and the things he's done for this program is definitely pretty big-time. Just for him to come back for the game is definitely saying something," said Drew.
"I think everyone loves Tyler, and even when you see his face on the video screen the crowd goes crazy," said Thompson. "I talked to him earlier in the week and I'm happy that he's going to be in town for this game. It will add a little more flavor to the game."
The Tar Heel players and fans can only hope that having Hansbrough in the building will bring about some special magic when they take the floor against a potent Blue Devil team capable of attacking UNC most effectively in two of its weakest areas---perimeter defense and half-court offense.
The key for UNC is cohesiveness and playing together as a team for a full 40 minutes, and while there's no easy solution to getting things back on the right path, what better possible time to bring it all together than Wednesday night?
"I know that right now I feel like we're in a great position just getting excited about a big game, and I think that's really good for us," said Ginyard. "Things happen that you aren't expecting sometimes, and we've just got to do a better job of dealing with it. I think a lot of times we're just getting too caught up in how bad things seem to be going for us."
"Right now it's just about that time we start focusing on trying to get better and trying to make this thing work," Ginyard added. "You've got to come out and try to build, try to stay as comfortable and confident as you can and just trust the process and hope it works out."
"Attack, attack---don't be tentative. Don't be shy. Just go in and look to make things happen when you get into the paint. Look to score," said Drew about what he has to do against the Blue Devils.
"It's really hard to put into words (what's going wrong)---definitely growing pains," said Thompson. "We're just growing as a team, and experiencing some things and going through adversity, but all you can do is get back up and keep fighting."
"We're not afraid of anybody. We're not running from the top teams or anything," said Davis. "Whoever we play from here on out, we're always going to get their best shot no matter how good the team is, but just with Duke and the rivalry, it's just going to be a fun game to play in."
"I don't think that we look at any game as any different. We don't take any teams lightly, especially since its ACC time now. We know that anybody can beat anybody in this conference, so we're going out there and trying to play hard," Davis added.
Davis is playing through an ankle injury that he says isn't getting particularly better, but he's going to play through it for the rest of the season the best he can.
"It's not (100 percent)," he said. "Most likely it won't. It's probably going to take a week to two week period off from everything for it (the ankle swelling) just to go down."
Davis continues to get treatment and is doing everything he can in terms of helping bring the ankle along, but he admits there's still considerable swelling that he's playing through.
"It's more just having to get down here an hour or two hours before everybody else just to get treatment and just try to reduce the swelling, but the swelling just hasn't gotten out," he said.
For a team in desperate need of a win to improve its floundering NCAA Tournament hopes and its shaky confidence, the Tar Heels must come out fired up and highly motivated in order to have any chance to beating this veteran Duke team with players who know what it takes to win in Chapel Hill.
"There's no question that tomorrow is going to be an intense game, an emotional game," said Ginyard. "There's going to be a lot of emotions going on. It's just one of those games where I think that's going to be a great thing."
"I don't think guys realize how much we represent by wearing this jersey. We're very fortunate to be wearing this Carolina jersey," said Thompson. ""We've got a couple more ACC games left to go and this could be a great opportunity for this team to rally around this game and definitely come together and get this win."