After injury, Armando Bacot is not dismissed by quick turnaround

NEW ORLEANS – First, Armando Bacot laid his forehead on the court and forced himself on his back. The pain in his right ankle was so severe that he writhed on the Superdome floor, squeezing his blue Carolina jersey in his teeth.

Caleb Love, Bacot’s teammate, stared at Bacot’s ankle as other Tar Heels formed a circle around Bacot. He had already gotten up by then, but he could not put weight on his ankle after he landed awkwardly at the foot of Leaky Black of North Carolina while trying to block Duke’s Paolo Banchero in a layup attempt.

The roar in the arena, which had previously reached seemingly unheard of levels of noise, even for a fabled North Carolina-Duke matchup, was quiet to muted walls, as if fans were collectively turning to each other and asking, “What are they going to do?” do now? “

Bacot, a physical 6-foot-10 big that dominates around the edge, has been one of the lifelines of the deep tournament of the eighth-seeded Tar Heels. After defeating Duke on Saturday, they face off against no. 1-seeded Kansas on Monday night in the Division I men’s championship game.

Bacot has had one of the best rebound seasons ever, recording at least 15 rebounds in 13 games. He hit a couple of lead free throws in overtime to help defeat Baylor, the defending champion, in the second round. Against UCLA in the round of 16, he called a loose ball before it jumped out of bounds and threw it into play to save possession – and the season of Tar Heels.

Against Duke, Bacot had demolished the Blue Devils in the empty post, and used all of his 240 pounds to push defenders away from him for rebounds and powerful bowls on the edge. But that’s been the MO of the Tar Heels all season.

“First and foremost, we want to feed the ball down to Armando, straight away, period, the end,” said North Carolina Coach Hubert Davis. “We want him to dominate low in the post.”

But on Saturday, barely able to stand the weight of his body on his right ankle as he limped off the court, Bacot seemed to be ready for the night – and possibly the season. There were less than five minutes left, and Bacot had already scored more than 15 rebounds in a tie in which each possession could make the difference between a win or a loss.

“Something just hit me in my mind, and I feel, ‘I’m playing in the greatest college basketball game of all time,'” Bacot told reporters after the game, where he returned and finished with 11 points and 21 rebounds. “No chance I was sitting.”

Davis suggested that Bacot would play in Monday night’s championship game by all necessary means.

“He’s going to play. Even if he’s just standing there, he’s going to play,” Davis said, maybe only half a joke. “We’ll cheat Kansas. He’s just sitting there in the middle of the lane. “

Davis told reporters that the x-rays of Bacot, which he received immediately after the match, showed no fracture. Bacot worked his ankle for about two hours on Saturday night, rehabilitated Sunday morning in the pool and has a compression sleeve on hand to make sure he is as ready as possible for Monday’s game, which Davis said it may come down to which team his size has the advantage.

“If I don’t play, who knows what McCormack can do,” said Bacot, referring to Kansas forward David McCormack, who had 25 points on Saturday on 10-of-12 shots in the Jayhawks’ 81-65 victory over Villanova.

Kansas had to deal with a Villanova team that was not at full strength, which was evident in the dominant victory of the Jayhawks semifinals.

Justin Moore, the Wildcats’ second leading scorer and best defender, scored his referee Achillespees in the final minutes of Villanova’s victory over Houston in a regional semifinal, and replacing him against Kansas proved easier said than done .

Villanova missed Moore’s lead on defense as much as he missed his score and ability to take some of the offensive pressure from point guard Collin Gillespie.

In his return to Saturday’s game against Duke, Bacot hopped up and down the court, favoring his right ankle while not being able to get exactly the same lift he is used to when taking down rebounds. But when asked after the game how he felt, Bacot grinned and said, “I feel great. I feel great. Better than ever.”

It is not uncommon for players to have to deal with nagging injuries so late in a season, especially those who constantly clash with big opponents and fall to the floor multiple times during the match. Davis said he does not think there is a player “who is not a little hurt,” and Bacot, who has been so essential to getting his team at this point, still expects to have an impact. in Monday’s championship game, one way or another.

“If I just have to get out there and get some rebounds and wall,” Bacot said, “offend a few times or do anything, I will do that.”

In the 1994-95 season, UCLA guard Tyus Edney was crucial in the Bruins’ title run. Against Missouri in the second round, Edney rode the length of the court and hit the game-winning shot to keep the Bruins season alive. But he injured his wrist in the final against Arkansas and played just three minutes.

However, Bacot said there was no chance he missed the biggest game of the season, not after the Tar Heels went 14-19 his first year, being knocked out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Wisconsin in his second season and then marched through the tournament this year after many thought they were too mediocre to make it this far.

“My right leg will have to be cut off to not play,” he said.

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