NEW ORLEANS – Armando Bacot had been the anchoring presence in the paint all season for North Carolina, providing low-post scoring to go with his relentless work on the boards that made him one of the nation’s most unstoppable rebounders.
In the end, battling both an ankle injury and Kansas’ physical David McCormack inside proved to be too much.
Hobbled all night, the 6-foot-10 junior had a double-double by halftime of the national championship game but faded after the break as Kansas erased a big deficit. That was all before Bacot reinjured the ankle on a fall in the final minute and exited a final time, ending his night – and the Tar Heels’ remarkable postseason push – one win short of a national championship.
Bacot finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds in Monday ’s 72-69 loss to the Jayhawks, turning in a gutsy performance in the NCAA title game despite it being apparent to everyone in the Superdome that he was limited.
He had 12 points and 10 rebounds by halftime to become the first player in tournament history to post six double-doubles in a single tournament. But he missed 10 of 13 shots and got nearly all of his production at the foul line.
Bacot’s right ankle had been a subject of scrutiny ever since he stepped on teammate Leaky Black’s foot late in Saturday’s win against rival Duke in the national semifinals. Bacot returned and gutted that game out, then assured anyone who would listen that he would be ready for the title tilt against Kansas.
But it was clear during pregame warmups that Bacot wasn’t moving at full speed. He fought and scrapped inside, but struggled to finish when the ball came his way in the post to help offset the burden on outside-shooting teammates Caleb Love, R.J. Davis and Brady Manek.
With Bacot struggling and no other player capable of replacing him, UNC shot just 31.5% and went 5 of 23 from 3-point range in a game that came down to the final play after the Tar Heels squandered a 16-point first-half lead.