NEW ORLEANS -- North Carolina star big man Armando Bacot injured his right ankle Saturday night in the second half of the Final Four matchup with Duke -- but was able to return as the No. 8 Tar Heels squeezed past the rival Blue Devils 81-77 to secure a spot in the national championship game Monday.
Bacot appeared to roll the ankle with 5:18 remaining in the game and spent more than a minute on the ground in the baseline area behind the basket. He limped to the end of the bench with the help of two UNC reserves, where he sat briefly.
Bacot then left the bench area and appeared headed to the locker room before returning and checking back into the game with 4:36 to play.
His effectiveness appeared limited during that stretch, as he winced and limped his way through the final minutes until fouling out with 46.7 seconds left and UNC leading 75-74.
"I know it's going to be sore, and the next 24 and 48 hours in terms of treatment is going to be huge," UNC coach Hubert Davis said of Bacot's injury. "At this time, I don't think there's a player that isn't hurt a little bit."
Bacot is UNC's best post player and one of the elite rebounders in the country. He entered the game averaging a team-leading 12.8 rebounds and finished the semifinal matchup with 21 rebounds to go with 11 points.
He's also perhaps the Tar Heels' most indispensable player considering the limited options behind him in the frontcourt.
UNC will take on No. 1 seed Kansas on Monday in the title game, where Bacot's health will certainly loom large.
"I can tell you, I can read that page, he's going to play on Monday night," Davis said, joking that Bacot would play even if he just stood in the lane.