North Carolina senior forward Armando Bacot is well aware of his role in helping Duke’s Dereck Lively II set a program record with eight blocks when the teams played in Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this season.
Three of those blocks came at Bacot’s expense.
But that memory has helped Bacot form his strategy for when the two teams meet again at 6:30 pm Saturday in the Dean E. Smith Center.
“I was just giving him space and with a guy that athletic with that size, you can’t really give him space,” Bacot said. “I got to stay connected to him. That way I can use my body to kind of shield him off and gain contact and hopefully get fouled.”
It was arguably the signature game for Lively, who was considered by many to be the No. 1-ranked recruit in the Class of 2022 but to that point of the season, had largely been underwhelming. Lively altered the first game with his defensive presence, limiting Carolina’s ability to score inside. Duke outscored the Heels 32-24 in the paint.
Bacot said he needs to be more aggressive and more physical against Lively on Saturday.
“He’s a pogo stick, 7-1, long arms, athletic and he’s got a high motor,” Bacot said. “So playing a guy like that, it’s always tough and they’ve got such an athletic team all around. So it’s one of those things where you got to kind of just figure out different ways to score and be creative.”
Bacot scored 14 points with 10 rebounds in Carolina’s 63-57 loss at Duke on Feb. 4, but only two of those points came in the second half. He also only attempted two free throws, a season-low that he equaled against Florida State this week.
“I thought the first half I started off really good, I got going,” Bacot said. “I thought in the second half, they did a good job of not really letting me get the ball where I wanted to get it to. Obviously, his (Lively) size and length definitely affected me on some of my shots. I also missed a few shots too I thought I should have made, so I kind of know how to attack him now.”
Attack is the operative word.
UNC coach Hubert Davis lamented the fact that Carolina had only three free-throw attempts in the first meeting. It remains the only time this season the Heels did not log at least 12 free-throw attempts.
“I mean, 100 percent we want to attack the basket through the post, penetration or offensive rebounds,” Davis said. “Guys like Derrick Lively challenge that because not only is he a great shot blocker, he does a terrific job of altering shots and he does it really well without fouling. And so we have to be persistent.”
Carolina’s recent opponents have managed to keep Bacot from being a big factor on offense. He’s only scored a total of 56 points over the past five games, which is his lowest total since a five-game stretch his sophomore season in Feb. in 2021
Bacot scored just one point against Florida State on Monday on 0-for-4 shooting. He didn’t score until just 26 seconds were left in the game. Early foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the first half, but in the second half he just couldn’t find anything easy.
“Armando has always been really good when, obviously when he catches the ball closer to the basket, when he has angles on being able to score and finish,” Davis said. “… They’ve been loading up in a lane so it’s very difficult for him to be able to get close to the basket. And so we’ve looked at it, we’ve talked about it, we’ve practiced, you know, just different ways that we can get Armando established.”
Bacot will participate in senior day activities, although he said he hasn’t decided yet whether this will be his last regular-season game in Chapel Hill. He has the option of another year of eligibility thanks to the NCAA granting a waiver to everyone who played the 2020-21 season through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bacot still leads the team in rebounding, averaging 10.8 per game, but his scoring has tapered off to where his 16.5 points per game no longer leads the Tar Heels. Caleb Love has edged past him at 16.9 points per game.
Davis said better movement on offense would help Bacot get better scoring opportunities, as well as getting him in transition more to lead to baskets. Ultimately, Davis said “there’s a will and a want to also.”
“All great players — defense is geared towards those great players,” Davis said. “And those great players find a way to still be effective. So whether you have this person on you or it’s double teamed, it is what it is, right? You’re going to have to go to work.”