The University of North Carolina beat Duke University 81-77 on Saturday to reach the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game and bring the curtain down on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s storied career.
The Final Four matchup at the Superdome in New Orleans between the fierce in-state rivals didn’t disappoint.
UNC’s Caleb Love scored the Tar Heels’ last eight points in the final 24.8 seconds to end a game that featured 18 lead changes and 12 ties.
North Carolina booked a championship clash with the University of Kansas on Monday.
The Jayhawks dominated Villanova, leading wire to wire in an 81-65 victory in the other semifinal.
Kansas snapped Villanova’s nine-game winning streak and avenged a brutal 95-79 loss to the same team in a 2018 Final Four matchup.
They will play for the national title for the first time since 2012, when they lost to Kentucky in the championship. The Jayhawks last won the title in 2008.
North Carolina coach Hubert Davis could join Michigan’s Steve Fisher in 1989 as the only first-year head coaches to win the national crown.
But the pregame focus was on Krzyzewski, the 75-year-old veteran who had already announced this would be his last season and had hoped to lead the Blue Devils to the sixth NCAA title in his 42 years at the helm.
“Coach K,” who also guided the United States to Olympic gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016, was emotional toward the end of a 10-minute video tribute that played before the contest.
It featured a number of his former Duke players along with Team USA players including James Harden and Kevin Durant.
Krzyzewski departs with a record 1,202 coaching victories. He led Duke to titles in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015, and the five championships trail only the 10 won by legendary UCLA coach John Wooden.
His Blue Devils were up 74-73 with 1:24 to play after Wendell Moore’s three-pointer.
But North Carolina’s RJ Davis was fouled on the ensuing possession and hit both free throws to give the Tar Heels a one-point lead. Love drained a three-pointer to put North Carolina up by four with 28 seconds left.
“I wanted it bad,” Love said after scoring 21 second-half points. “Playing Duke for the chance to get the national championship … it’s crazy that we’re here right now.”
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