No. 5 Duke, UNC ready for delayed rivalry game
North Carolina coach Roy Williams went into last week's pregame meal thinking a winter storm wouldn't prevent Duke from getting to the Smith Center for the latest installment in the fierce rivalry.
Eight days later, the No. 5 Blue Devils are finally making their way to Chapel Hill.
The storm that paralyzed area roads with snow and ice kept Duke's bus from even making it to Durham to pick up the team for the 11-mile drive to Chapel Hill. That forced the game's postponement to Thursday night, creating a four-games-in-eight-days stretch for both teams that's particularly challenging for Duke with No. 1 Syracuse visiting Saturday night.
"The frustrating thing is that you go through all the junk on game day and the stress and everything and then you don't get to play," Williams said Wednesday. "So you've got to do it twice for only one game. That's not fair. We did it last week and we'll do it again tomorrow."
At least there shouldn't be any weather delays this time around.
Temperatures reached 70 degrees Wednesday afternoon, though piles of snow were still stubbornly refusing to melt around the Smith Center even amid the spring-like conditions.
A week earlier, roads were snow-covered parking lots littered with abandoned cars of people who gave up trying to drive ice-slickened highways and headed out on foot. Still, UNC officials insisted the game would be played as scheduled most of the afternoon even as they cautioned fans to stay off the roads.
It wasn't until Duke couldn't even board the bus, let alone try to make its way through the gridlocked U.S. 15-501 that runs between the campuses, that the game was finally postponed about 3½ hours before tipoff.
Now both teams are in the middle of a jumbled stretch of the schedule.
"We did some conditioning on the couple of days that we had off, just to stay in shape," Duke sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon said after Saturday's win against Maryland. "These next few days we just have to take care of our body, focus on one game at a time, not look ahead, and just really get our reps. This coming week is really going to be a big week for our program."
Both the Blue Devils (21-5, 10-3 ACC) and Tar Heels (18-7, 8-4) have won twice since the postponement.
After edging Maryland at home Saturday, Duke beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Tuesday night for its fourth straight win. The Tar Heels beat then-No. 25 Pittsburgh on Saturday then won at Florida State on Monday for their seventh straight win.
The win against Pitt was particularly big for the Tar Heels, who dug their way out of an 0-3 ACC start primarily by beating teams standing at sixth or lower in the standings.
"We were still pretty confident, we had won a couple going into the first date for the Duke game," UNC sophomore Marcus Paige said. "But I think, yeah, this gives us a little more confidence. The Pitt game was a big game for us. We thought we really got better that game. We're a little more confident, but I know they've been playing well, too."
While UNC hosts struggling Wake Forest on Tuesday, the Blue Devils will have to regroup quickly before hosting the Orange in a rematch of the overtime classic won by Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski compared the two games to being in the Final Four, though he has emphasized looking at the games individually instead of as a four-game stretch.
"I think you can get ahead of yourself with the buildup that people will give for the Thursday night game and the Saturday game," Krzyzewski said this week. "... You can have a tendency of not giving each game the value of emotion, the mental, physical and emotional preparation that's needed. That's why were' trying to look at it in that way."
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.