NEW ORLEANS — North Carolina versus Duke has long been one of college basketball’s premier rivalries, the teams’ histories so rich and their fans so fervently invested that even their regular-season meetings carry championship atmospheres.
It’s a rivalry so contentious that North Carolina joyously played spoiler in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game as the pilot of this storied Duke program, soundly defeating the Blue Devils in their regular-season finale.
And, as if it had been scripted, North Carolina put a period on Krzyzewski’s college coaching career, hanging on after a dizzying multitude of lead changes to defeat Duke, 81-77, and denying Krzyzewski the chance to hoist championship hardware one last time on his way out of the sport.
North Carolina advanced to its 12th N.C.A.A. championship game, where it will face No 1-seeded Kansas, with the chance to win its seventh national title.
The magnitude of the game could be felt before the teams tipped off. Player introductions were barley audible over the roar of the crowd. The Caesars Superdome, which holds nearly 75,000 people, was peppered with blue attire, both sky and navy.
The Blue Devils, led by a talented unit that includes three freshman who are projected to enter the draft at the end of the season — Paolo Banchero, Trevor Keels and AJ Griffin — looked to be in control early, though as expected in a game like this, neither team pulled away. And they traded leads and 3-point baskets until the final seconds.
Banchero, a 6-foot-10 forward who can score at all three levels, did just that against North Carolina, raising up for 3-pointers and throwing down powerful dunks as Tar Heels players watched him glide past them to the basket.
But the Tar Heels were bent on seizing this moment from Duke and Krzyzewski once more.
So they matched the energy of the motivated Blue Devils and their impassioned fans. They took advantage of Duke’s big men spending time on the bench with foul trouble. Caleb Love, who scored 14 points in the round of 8 against Saint Peter’s and 30 against U.C.L.A., scored seven straight shots to start the second half, flipping the Tar Heels’ halftime deficit to a 3-point lead early in the period. And it was a late-3-pointer by Love that sealed the win.
Armando Bacot, one of the centerpieces of North Carolina’s run to the finals, took advantage of Duke’s smaller lineups when its bigs weren’t on the floor, using his 6-foot-10, 240-pound frame to score at the rim and haul in double-digit rebounds.
Krzyzewski displayed a range of emotions in his final coaching appearance.
Sometimes he stood, staring almost stoically as his players swatted at loose balls. Then he’d retake his seat on the tiny wooden stool near the Duke bench, swiveling back and forth as the teams ran up and down the court.
Duke had known all season that this would be Krzyzewski’s last, and the players did all they could to postpone his retirement, beating Cal State Fullerton, Michigan State, Texas Tech and Arkansas to get into Saturday’s semifinal.
A historic run that began in 1980, one that included the most wins of any coach ever in college basketball and has molded decades of NBA talent, from Grant Hill to Kyrie Irving, ended Saturday night with a pair of missed free throws by Mark Williams, a 3-pointer and a final North Carolina free throw.