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Don't count Duke out of this one

I can still hear the shrieks of the Cameron Crazies in my head. Never had I heard such a noise, and I haven't heard it since.

I can replay the final sequence in my mind as if it happened yesterday. The Tar Heels inbound the ball to Raymond Felton with UNC trailing by one and 18 ticks left. J.J. Redick jumps out in front of Rashad McCants, forcing Felton to reverse the ball to David Noel. Noel dribbles the ball out of bounds in front of the Carolina bench as time expires.

Duke wins, 71-70.

Bedlam ensues.

But the shriek, the shriek is what made that moment special.

You might think you've heard Cameron at its loudest, but when Duke beat UNC two years ago, it was louder than you can imagine. Not only was it louder, but the noise lasted longer than anything I've ever heard at a sporting venue.

When Noel lost the ball out of bounds, no one heard the final buzzer. No one heard the final score announced over the PA system. No one could hear the band. No one could hear themselves think. And 10 minutes later, after all the players had left the court, it was just as loud. That shriek could still be heard.

North Carolina entered that game as the second-ranked team in the country and the prohibitive favorite-not only to win the game but the national championship that year as well. Sure, Duke was ranked seventh and had won 14 of the past 16 meetings against its arch rival. But most people, myself included, thought the Tar Heels were too quick, too strong and too talented for Duke to stop.

I was just hoping that the Blue Devils could keep it close.

But when the clock hit zero, the noise told the whole story. North Carolina may have been the better team that year, but Duke played better that night.

Tonight's game has a similar feel to it. UNC enters the game at No. 5 in the polls and many believe the youthful, high-flying Tar Heels are the most talented team in the country. On the other hand, Duke, down to 16th in the rankings, is coming off two straight heartbreaking defeats and many believe the Blue Devils won't be able to hold their own.

But in this rivalry, none of that matters. Throw out all the pregame commentary. It's almost a guarantee that tonight's game will go down to the wire regardless of where these teams stand entering the matchup.

Since Roy Williams arrived at North Carolina, the six meetings between these two teams have been decided by an average of just 3.5 points per game.

Two years ago when UNC was heavily favored, the teams split the season series. Last year when the situation was reversed, the teams, once again, split their two games.

So if you're expecting to see a Carolina blowout tonight, don't get your hopes up. Duke hasn't lost a game to any team by more than 15 points since UNC beat them by 24 on Feb. 5, 1998-a remarkable span of more than nine years and 323 games.

And don't expect that streak to be snapped tonight.

So as the game winds to an end, the play intensifies and the score tightens, expect to hear Cameron get louder. And maybe, just maybe, everyone will get to hear that shriek.

It's a sound befitting this storied rivalry.

Click here for Complete Coverage of the big game on The Chronicle Blogger


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