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When Hubert Davis of North Carolina talked about the Final Four last fall, not everyone believed it


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North Carolina coach Hubert Davis displayed a photo of the Caesars Superdome in his team’s locker room last October.

The dome and New Orleans hold special significance in the history of Tar Heels and their immediate future. North Carolina is 15-1 all-time in the Big Easy with a 9-1 mark in the Superdome, including 6-1 in the Final Fours.

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North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis reacts to a play in the first half of a college basketball game against Duke in the semifinals of the Men’s Final Four NCAA Tournament on Saturday, 2 April 2022, in New Orleans.
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

No. 8 seed North Carolina (29-9) plays its third national championship in the dome against No. 1 seed Kansas (33-6) on Monday (8:20 p.m. TBS). Kansas is a four-point FanDuel favorite.

The Tar Heels beat Georgetown, 63-62, for coach Dean Smith’s first title in 1982, and beat Michigan, 77-71, for his second in 1993.

UNC beat No. 2 seed Duke 81-77 Saturday night in the Dome to reach that title shot.

“The first day of practice I had put a picture of the Superdome in their locker,” said Davis, who played for Smith. “I didn’t want them to dwell on it, but I wanted them to see where we’re going and why we’re fighting and why we’re training so hard.”

Davis, 51, was just beginning his first season as head coach at the time, having been promoted to assistant coach to replace outgoing coach Roy Williams last April. The win over Duke made him the first coach in NCAA Tournament history to take a team to the national championship game in their first full season. Steve Fisher won the 1989 national championship with Michigan, but he took over at the opener of the NCAA Tournament.

When Hubert Davis of North Carolina talked about the Final Four last fall, not everyone believed it

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis scores during practice for the NCAA Final Four men’s college basketball tournament, Friday, April 1, 2022, in New Orleans.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“It’s crazy to think about it,” North Carolina goaltender RJ Davis said. “It really is a surreal moment. It shows how much confidence and belief in us he had at the start of the year.”

And the Tar Heels weren’t exactly in the right place. They had just finished 18-11 overall in the 2020-21 season with a fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 10-6. Then they lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the No. 8 seed to No. 9 seed Wisconsin, 85-62.

“Coach told us we were going to be in this position, so might as well tell our parents to book their tickets now to New Orleans,” Davis said.

As the season progressed, however, not everyone believed it. North Carolina lost by 17 to No. 17 Tennessee, by 29 to No. 21 Kentucky, by 28 to Miami, by 20 to No. 9 Duke, by nine on Feb. 16 to Pittsburgh, which finished 11- 21 and 6-14 in the ACC for 11th and 72-59 in the ACC Tournament at Virginia Tech, which finished 11-9 in the ACC for seventh place.

Would there be ticket refunds for trips to New Orleans?

“At times, I don’t know if it was a belief or if it was just that we were delusional,” North Carolina center Armando Bacot said. “I mean, every moment of the season we knew that if we were going to unite as a team, we could qualify for the championship. And that’s what we did.”

North Carolina played its best game to beat Duke on Saturday.

“It was exactly what I felt was what the team needed,” Davis said of his Superdome image motivational tactic, along with others like preaching to block out noise. “I feel like they’ve understood where I’m coming from, and they’ve embraced it or accepted it. That’s why they’re able to play so well under big lights because they can block out the noise. “

North Carolina is home in the dome, but Franklin Street on Chapel Hill would have been more fun Saturday night. Carolina fans took to the streets in celebration after the win over Duke in the two programs’ first-ever NCAA tournament pairing located just eight miles apart.

“It’s crazy to see our game creating moments for them too,” said North Carolina goaltender Caleb Love, who scored 28 goals on Saturday, including a three-pointer with 28.4 seconds left for a lead. from 78-74 which put the game out of reach. “So it’s just a blessing in disguise. It’s great to see.”

As comfortable as North Carolina was in New Orleans, Davis disagreed with his players living the French Quarter or Bourbon Street to the fullest.

“Not that much,” he said. “I wanted them to have fun, but not that much.”

Maybe Monday night.

UPDATE ON ARMANDO BACOT’S INJURY: X-rays of North Carolina center Armando Bacot’s right ankle injury, sustained on Saturday, were negative on Sunday, Davis said.

“He’s in a bit of pain, but he was walking around and feeling great and was very encouraged by the (little) swelling from his sprained ankle,” Davis said. “And he’s ready to play tomorrow night.”

When Hubert Davis of North Carolina talked about the Final Four last fall, not everyone believed it

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot (5) reacts to a play during the first half of a college basketball game against Duke in the semifinals of the Men’s Final Four NCAA Tournament, Saturday, April 2, 2022, at New -Orleans.
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Bacot, a 6-foot-10 junior center, is averaging 16 points and 13 rebounds with 64 blocked shots. He grabbed 21 rebounds in Saturday’s win. He will face Kansas 6-10 senior center David McCormack, who had 25 points and nine rebounds in the Jayhawks’ 81-65 win over Villanova. He is averaging 10.5 points and 6.9 rebounds with 32 blocks.

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“It’s going to be a great game in the position,” Davis said. “Two amazing post players who can bounce back, can consistently score low in the paint. That’s a big deal for us as well as for Kansas. And it could ultimately come down to the winner of this game being the deciding factor of who wins the championship. But Armando looks really good, and he’s very encouraged and ready to play.”

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