Hubert Davis' message after historic win over Coach K, Duke: We're not done yet
NEW ORLEANS – Mike Krzyzewski won’t be coaching any more games.
And Hubert Davis will be coaching Monday night to try and win a national championship in his first season as a head coach.
The 81-77 Final Four victory that Davis’ North Carolina team had over Krzyzewski’s Duke team on Saturday night in the Superdome had significant big-picture implications for both coaches and both programs.
But the game itself, which was as North Carolina-Duke-ish a battle as any in the previous 257 meetings between the long-time neighbors, was about the only thing anyone wanted to talk about afterward.
Davis said he “appreciated” the “great question” about the significance that this victory and the 94-81 victory 28 days earlier in Coach K’s last home game would have in Carolina basketball lore.
But that stuff, Davis was quick to point, “doesn’t help us for Monday.”
No it doesn’t.
UNC was left with fewer than 48 hours to prepare for a Kansas team that rolled over Villanova 81-65 in Saturday’s first semifinal in Monday’s title game.
“We put that in a box to think about over the summer,” Davis said of the back-to-back victories over Coach K’s Blue Devils.
Davis said he wasn’t concerned about the quick turnaround in the wake of a titanic battle with his team’s most intense rival in the final game coached by the guy who has won more games than any other college basketball coach.
“That’s easy,” Davis said. “We’re playing for a national championship. These guys have just been fantastic at celebrating a win, but also putting that aside and focusing on the task ahead of us.
“This is a special moment for them. This is a special moment for our program. So I want them to enjoy themselves, but we have more than enough time to prepare for an unbelievable Kansas team. And playing for the national championship, if you’re not motivated for that, you shouldn’t be playing.”
As for whether forward Armando Bacot, who finished with 11 points and 21 rebounds before fouling out Saturday, will be playing Monday night after suffering an ankle injury, Davis was clear.
“He’s going to play on Monday night,” Davis said.
Even with the late-season upset of Duke and a strong finish, UNC was just a No. 8 seed. But on Monday night they’ll be back in the Superdome, where Michael Jordan gave Dean Smith his first title and Eric Montross and Donald Williams gave Smith his second.
Davis placed a photo of the iconic building in each of his players’ lockers at the start of preseason practice to drive home the point of where they should work to be.
“I would say our belief all year was strong that we can get to this point,” Bacot said. “At some points, I don’t know if it was belief or if it was just us being delusional, I mean at every point of the season we knew, like, if we came together as a team that we can get to the championship. And that’s what we did.”
As for Coach K, naturally, the postgame focus was on the sudden end to his 47-year head-coaching career, the last 42 of which have been at Duke.
“I’m not thinking about my career right now,” Coach K said. “It’s not about me. I’ve said that I wanted my seasons to end where my team was either crying tears of joy or tears of sorrow because then you knew that they gave everything.
“I had a locker room filled with guys who were crying, and it’s a beautiful sight. It’s not the sight that I would want. I’d want the other. But it’s a sight that I really respect and makes me understand just how good this group was.”
Coach K called the group the youngest he has ever coached and “a joy for me to coach.”
The youngsters appreciated being a part of Coach K’s final team even though they weren’t able to match the achievement of his 5 national-championship teams.
“He never made (his last season) about him,” said Paolo Banchero, who led the Blue Devils with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “And you’re just proud that we were able to go out and fight, be in a fight with Coach every game.
“You don’t get time to think about it right now, but I’m sure, when we look back on it, we’re going to be proud that we got to play for him.”
Finally Coach K looked past the disappointment of Saturday’s loss and at the bigger picture.
“I’ve been blessed to be in the arena,” he said. “And when you’re in the arena, you’re either going to come out feeling great or you’re going to feel agony, but you always will feel great about being in the arena.
“And I’m sure that that’s the thing when I’ll look back that I’ll miss. I won’t be in the arena anymore. But, damn, I was in the arena for a long time. And these kids made my last time in the arena an amazing one.”