North Carolina forward Deon Thompson distinctly remembers how he ran off Duke's court last year, flashing four fingers in celebration for the Tar Heels seniors who had just won their fourth straight game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
If this year's underclassmen help him and fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard accomplish the same feat tonight with an upset of the No. 4 Blue Devils, it would go a long way toward soothing the disappointment of this 16-14 season.
"For me, winning tomorrow would probably be tied with winning the national championship," said Ginyard, who missed playing in last year's win at Duke, and UNC's NCAA title victory, because of a foot injury. "There's just no question about the amount of confidence this team would have after a win like that, the amount of momentum this team would have going into ACC Tournament - when this year, the ACC Tournament means more to us than it ever will.
"To beat Duke on their senior year night ... to upset a top-5 team ... it would be a big-time accomplishment for this team."
Although the Tar Heels enter the showdown with a two-game ACC winning streak for the first time this season, their top-two scorers are hurting. Thompson (13.8 ppg), who has never missed a game in his UNC career, has a sore back, while junior forward Will Graves (9.9 ppg) has a sprained ankle. Thompson said he will play, and UNC coach Roy Williams said he is hopeful that Graves, who was hobbling around in a walking boot on Thursday, will be able to go, too.
Upsetting Duke will be a tough task. The Blue Devils (25-5, 12-3) are averaging 79 points per game; the Tar Heels have yet to record 79 in an ACC game this year.
"[The Blue Devils] have such great balance - they can score," Williams said. "And it's a tough match for us, because you've got to be able to score to keep up with them, especially in their building. And that's one of our problems that we've had all year long, is to be able to put the ball in the basket."
UNC also faces a fired-up Duke squad that is still irritated that it lost at Maryland on Wednesday, that wants to finish the season undefeated at Cameron Indoor Stadium and that is determined to halt the Tar Heels' winning streak on its home court.
"There's no doubt, we definitely want to turn that tide, especially as seniors," Duke point guard Jon Scheyer said.
But the same goes for UNC's seniors - who want to turn the tide of a bad season into a three-game winning streak ... and a four-fingered salute.
"I'm pretty sure they're thinking about us more than we're thinking about them," Thompson said earlier this week. "Because we're the underdogs right now; they're the top 5 team, [on] their senior night, they beat us here in our home. We're the underdogs coming in there, the bunch of young pups coming into Cameron, so it's definitely going to be exciting. ... It's just a fun place to play, the whole atmosphere. I'm not going to go in there unconfident about it."
Staff writer Ken Tysiac contributed to this report.