Armando Bacot (ankle) ‘ready to play’ for North Carolina Tar Heels in men’s basketball title game

NEW ORLEANS – North Carolina star big man Armando Bacot plans to play in the national championship game against Kansas on Monday night.

Bacot sprained his right ankle in UNC’s 81-77 victory over Duke in the Final Four on Saturday. He left with less than a minute of playing time after the injury and moved cautiously in the final minutes of the second half. Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said Bacot was scheduled to practice on Sunday, but stressed the team’s full practice would be limited. He said the X-rays on Bacot were negative and the swelling was not overwhelming.

“He’s ready to play tomorrow night,” Davis said.

Bacot is the toughest player for UNC to replace if restricted. He is the program’s leading scorer (16.3 PPG) and rebounder (13.1 RPG), and his total rebounds rank No. 3 in the nation. He ranks No. 8 in defensive rebound percentage (30.2%) and No. 21 in offensive rebound percentage (14.9%), according to KenPom.com.

Bacot said on Sunday that he had been treated almost constantly since the end of the game. After the X-rays, he said he spent two hours treating the ankle, then woke up and went into the pool for rehabilitation on Sunday morning. He said while working on an assignment for a sports facility class on Sunday morning, he kept his ankle in compression sleeves. During a meeting with the media on Sunday afternoon, he said he had undergone stimulation treatment.

“We don’t have another big man,” Bacot said, “so I have no choice.”

The options the Tar Heels have behind Bacot aren’t appealing. They could move 6-foot-9 forward Brady Manek to 5th point, which he frequently played against Kansas while at Oklahoma. That would create a tough inside lag for UNC against Kansas’ David McCormack, who is coming off a 25-point blitz over Villanova.

McCormack is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward whose comfort in contact made him a human bowling ball on Saturday night. He celebrated with self-congratulatory muscle flexes on a night in which he went 10-for-12 from the floor with nine rebounds.

Davis went so far as to say Monday night’s national title winner “could ultimately be the winner of this game.”

If Bacot is restricted in the title game and UNC wants Manek to avoid playing after the defense against McCormack, the Heels could turn to reserve forwards Justin McKoy (6-8, 220) or Dontrez Styles ( 6-6, 210). None of these options are attractive to UNC.

“We don’t have any other big men,” Bacot said. “If I don’t play, who knows what Dave McCormack might do?

The absence of 6-11 forward Dawson Garcia from the UNC roster could weigh heavily if Bacot is restricted or finds trouble again. Garcia, a transfer from Marquette, last played for UNC on Jan. 22; the school announced in February that he would not be returning due to family medical issues.

This gave Bacot more chances to dominate. In the NCAA Tournament, he averaged 16.8 rebounds in five games. That included 21 rebounds against Duke and 22 against St. Peter’s. “I feel like the best big in the country,” Bacot said.

Bacot spent about a minute writhing in pain on the floor Saturday night against Duke after it emerged he had stepped on teammate Leaky Black’s foot with 5:18 left. He limped to the bench without putting weight on his right leg, his arms draped around two teammates to cross the pitch.

He first said he was in so much pain that he didn’t even think about getting back into the game. Bacot headed for the UNC bench tunnel and said a pep talk from coach Doug Halverson gave him an adrenaline rush. Halverson mentioned that Joel Berry overcame ankle injuries in the 2017 national title chase without any treatment.

When asked about his health by a teammate when he returned to the game with 4:36 to go, Bacot recalled saying a more profane version of the phrase: “Forget it.” It was captured on video and made the rounds on social media. He added on Sunday: “I mean there are four minutes left for the national championship [game].”

Bacot said Sunday he didn’t think UNC would have won the game if he hadn’t returned to play those four minutes. He committed a foul with 46.7 seconds to go.

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