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UNC basketball still betting on playing against No. 4 UCLA in Las Vegas on Saturday

North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) breaks to the basket against Michigan’s Moussa Diabate (14) in the first half on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina’s Caleb Love (2) breaks to the basket against Michigan’s Moussa Diabate (14) in the first half on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina’s showdown with No. 4 UCLA in the CBS Classic on Saturday may have to wait for another time, but the Tar Heels are still planning on flying out to Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon after practice.

The Bruins were forced to cancel Wednesday’s game against Alabama State with head coach Mick Cronin entering COVID-19 protocol.

The school said that UCLA assistant coach Darren Savino was prepared to fill in on Wednesday for Cronin as the acting head coach, and the Los Angeles Times reported that every UCLA player was available to play on Wednesday, but the game was canceled as a precautionary measure.

UNC faced a similar situation last season when games against Virginia Tech and Boston College were canceled. The Heels even took to Twitter soliciting for opponents and ended up playing Northeastern and Marquette.

UNC coach Hubert Davis recalled another two games where the team prepared to play Clemson and Miami last season and both games got canceled with no makeup game in sight. His message to the team is to only focus on what they can control.

“What we can control is how we prepare, how we practice, and how we play,” Davis said. “And so I always talk to the guys about, let’s focus our attention to things that we can control. And that’s taking care of ourselves here, being the best team that we can be and, when we leave the court, making smart choices from a health standpoint.”

If Carolina is unable to play, and it seems a last-minute opponent for Saturday would be unlikely, that would leave Tuesday’s game against Appalachian State as its final non-conference matchup.

UCLA represents the Heels last chance to secure a Quad I win before ACC play. That could end up being a factor, assuming they make the NCAA Tournament, with their seeding considering all indications are that the ACC is in a down year and there won’t be as many opportunities for Quad I wins.

Carolina players were looking forward to playing the Bruins for reasons unrelated to the NCAA’s NET rankings and potentially a spot in the top 25 polls. They spoke openly on Tuesday after their win over Furman about wanting to make a statement.

The Tar Heels have not forgotten their losses against top-ranked teams Purdue and Tennessee last month and they feel like they have something to prove. Yes, they did beat then-No. 24 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but the Wolverines are no longer ranked. UCLA returned most of its core from its 2021 Final Four squad and it’s considered a national title contender.

UNC junior forward Armando Bacot, asked if playing the Bruins would be a ‘validation game.’

“One hundred percent, them being a top three or four team,” Bacot said. “I mean, that’d be a huge win for us. And I feel like we can put just everyone on notice.”

C.L. Brown covers the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer. Brown brings more than two decades of reporting experience including stints as the beat writer on Indiana University and the University of Louisville. After a long stay at the Louisville Courier-Journal, where he earned an APSE award, he’s had stops at ESPN.com, The Athletic and even tried his hand at running his own website, clbrownhoops.com.



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