NEW ORLEANS — Armando Bacot sat on the podium with his head on his right hand, a stunned look on his face reflecting the disbelief and pain of losing to Kansas 72-69 in Monday’s national championship game.
The right ankle did not heal after 48 hours in Saturday’s last-four win over Duke. He won as he climbed the stairs on the raised court at the Kaiser Superdome and went awkwardly during the pregame warmup.
“I really couldn’t even jump right before the game,” he said.
He was not on the starting tip, as he had allowed Kansas to be captured as he fell to the floor. The Jayhawks quickly took a 7-0 lead and Bacot’s first shot was easily stopped by KU big man David McCormack.
But then his ankle started loosening. It took him just over four minutes to make his first shot. Then another. His confidence soared as the pain mixed in with the screams of more than 70,000 fans.
Whats up:North Carolina’s place in the men’s college basketball Blue Bloods should not obscure the tournament’s achievement. opinion
Eyes on the future:UNC’s loss to Kansas was cut short as Hubert Davis proved the Tar Heels had a bright future. Analysis
NCAA Title Game Winners, Losers:Bill Self rewrote the story after the season; Who Are the ‘Kansas City Jayhawks’?
All told, Bacot finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the half, tying David Robinson’s NCAA single-season record for double-doubles at 31. Bacott ended this NCAA tournament with 99 rebounds in six games, the second-highest in event history. Tom Gola of La Salle scored 102 runs in five matches in 1954.
At the 13:30 mark in the first half, Becott blocked coach Hubert Davis’ attempt to take him out as RJ Davis shot a free throw. He missed the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and, last year, was eliminated by the Tar Heels in the first round.
Bakot was not going anywhere.
“We all really wanted to win,” he said. “We came so far and it was a huge goal for us to just hang a banner. And we really wanted to win. I really can’t let anything stop us from getting to that point.”
Davies missed his second attempt and Bacott caught the offensive board before being fouled on the putback. He played 18:41 in the first 20 minutes as the Tar Heels commanded a 40-25 halftime lead. UNC entered the NCAA Tournament 46-0 in the evening when it was leading by double digits.
“It just wasn’t tonight,” said Hubert Davis, who finished his first season as UNC coach with a remarkable run through the NCAA Tournament as the eighth seed. “The kind of season Armando has had, I’ve been privileged to see all the hard work he put into the off-season. He’s positioned himself to be successful this year. I’ve seen the commitment he’s made to make this team a success. For he had more desperation.”
The Jayhawks came out of the gate in the second half and used a 31-10 rally to take a 56-50 lead with 10:08 in the game. There was a fierce fight between the two teams till the last 10 minutes. Brady Manek gave UNC a 69-68 lead at 1:45 on the second spot, before McCormack put Kansas back in the next possession.
Taking his team down one by one, Becot wanted to take the ball into his own hands. He drove over McCormack, but his ankle bent under him, eventually leaving 38 seconds on the clock after 38 minutes of heroic play.
He put his hands on his head and smiled as he finally felt the pain. He was able to make a comeback against the Duke, but now, his night was over.
“I couldn’t really put any weight on my right foot,” he said. “And I don’t know, right then and there I probably knew I was done at that time.”
Bacott, who finished the game with 15 points and 15 rebounds, jumped off the court and had to watch from the side as Caleb Love’s final 3-point effort fell short and the Kansas players fell to the floor in celebration.
He needed the help of a staff member from Carolina as he stepped onto the podium after the loss. He listened to his coach answer questions from the media about his effort and the way he pushed the Jayhawks to their limits on one leg.
Davis spoke of pride: the way he felt about his team’s effort and what they achieved together. For a program that is measured in banners, this season was bound to be forgotten.
Instead, the Tar Heels fell one game short of a seventh championship – a season worth remembering and a scintillating performance from Becote that was indicative of this team’s fight.
“The thing that I shared with them in the locker room is, along the way, as they experienced it, they were giving me more stories and evidence and memories, just to sit around them,” Davis said. ” , “I can’t remember a time in my life where I should be disappointed, but I’m just so filled with pride. I’m so proud of these guys for what they’ve done for themselves, individually, as a team, And the way they have represented our university, this program and our community.”
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke Athletics. He can be reached at [email protected], 828-231-1747 or on Twitter at @daveth89.