Armando Bacot (ankle) ‘ready to play’ for North Carolina Tar Heels in men’s basketball title fight

NEW ORLEANS – North Carolina star big man Armando Bacot plans to play in the national championship game against Kansas on Monday night.

Bacot sprained his right ankle in UNC’s 81-77 victory over Duke in the Final Four on Saturday. He walked for less than a minute of playing time after the injury and moved gently in the final minutes of the second half. Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said Bacot should train on Sunday, but stressed that the entire team’s training would be limited. He said the x-rays on Bacot were negative and that the swelling was not overwhelming.

“He’s ready to play tomorrow night,” Davis said.

Bacot is the hardest player for UNC to replace if he is limited. He is the program’s leading goal scorer (16.3 PPG) and rebounder (13.1 RPG), and his rebound total ranks as No. 3 in the country. He ranks No. 8 in defensive rebound percentage (30.2%) and No. 21 in offensive rebound percentage (14.9%) according to KenPom.com.

Bacot said Sunday that he has been treated almost constantly since the match ended. After the x-rays, he said he spent two hours treating the ankle and then woke up and went to the pool to retrain Sunday morning. He told that while working on a homework assignment for a sports facility on Sunday morning, he kept his ankle in compression sleeves. While meeting with the media on Sunday afternoon, he said he had stimulation treatment on it.

“We do not have another great man,” said Bacot, “so I have no choice.”

The options that Tar Heels has behind Bacot are not appealing. They were able to move 6-foot-9 forward Brady Manek to 5th place, which he often played against Kansas while in Oklahoma. That would create a difficult mismatch inside the UNC against Kansas’ David McCormack, who comes after a season-high 25-point blitz against Villanova.

McCormack is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound striker whose comfort with contact made him a human bowling ball Saturday night. He celebrated with self-righteous muscle flexions on an evening where he walked 10-to-12 off the floor with nine rebounds.

Davis went so far as to say that the winner of the national title on Monday night “could eventually come down to the winner of that match.”

If Bacot is limited in the title game and UNC wants Manek to avoid playing post-defense against McCormack, the heels could turn to either reserve strikers Justin McKoy (6-8, 220) or Dontrez Styles (6-6, 210). None of these options are attractive to UNC.

“We do not have other great men,” Bacot said. “If I do not play, who knows what Dave McCormack can do?”

The absence of 6-11 striker Dawson Garcia from the UNC list could be huge if Bacot is limited or again finds fault trouble. Garcia, a Marquette transfer, last played for UNC on January 22; the school announced in February that he would not return due to family illness.

It has given Bacot a greater chance to dominate. In the NCAA tournament, he has averaged 16.8 rebounds through five games. It included 21 rebounds against Duke and 22 against Saint Peter’s. “I feel like the best big in the country,” Bacot said.

Bacot spent about a minute writhing on the ground in pain Saturday night against Duke, after it appeared he stepped on the foot of teammate Leaky Black with 5:18 left. He limped to the bench without emphasizing his right leg, arms draped around two teammates on the ride across the court.

He initially said he was in so much pain that he did not even think about going back into the game. Bacot walked around the tunnel at the UNC bench, saying a pep talk from coach Doug Halverson gave him an adrenaline boost. Halverson mentioned Joel Berry, who overcame ankle injuries during the 2017 national title without any treatment.

When a teammate asked him about his health when he came back in the game with 4:36 left, Bacot remembers saying a more profane version of the phrase, “Forget it.” It was captured on video and circulated on social media. He added on Sunday: “I think there are four minutes left until the national championship [game]. “

Bacot said Sunday that he did not think UNC would have won the match if he did not come back and play the four minutes. He broke out with 46.7 seconds left.

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