Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Freshmen play key role in UNC-Duke rivalry
By Robbi Pickeral
DURHAM, N.C. — Freshman Austin Rivers has never been to a Duke-North Carolina game in person — and thus, has never experienced the pre-game hysteria, the mid-game intensity, the post-game ear-ringing.
But after years of watching the rivalry on television, of rewinding replays on YouTube, of seeing the highlights on "SportsCenter," the Blue Devils guard knows exactly what he has to do.
"I'm going to go out there and be aggressive, on both ends of the floor, especially defense, defensive rebounding," he said. "I'll be looking for my teammates, and looking to attack.
"I'm going to have an impact."
Bold prediction for a rookie? Perhaps. But in Wednesday's game at the Dean E. Smith Center (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET), the rookies who make an impact could make the difference, just as they have so many times in the past.
Rivers is the leading scorer on a ninth-ranked team that's still trying to find consistent defense, leadership and an identity after losing at home to Miami on Sunday. His classmate, Quinn Cook, is one of three point guards who have started for the Blue Devils this season.
No freshmen start for fifth-ranked UNC, but guard P.J. Hairston and classmate James Michael McAdoo are the first players off the bench — a bench that has struggled to score since sophomore reserve Reggie Bullock moved into the starting lineup.
A bench that wants to change that trend, particularly against the rival Devils.
"Of course, this is a game when you want to make a difference," McAdoo said. "That's got to be the case for any player, any [freshman], who's ever played in it."
Actually, freshmen weren't allowed to play in this showdown — or any varsity NCAA basketball game — until 1972.
But some credit a freshman — and a freshman game — for sparking arguably the best rivalry in college basketball.