DURHAM — The last-ditch pass was batted around and ended up, naturally, in the hands of Caleb Love. He pitched it forward, and teammate KJ Lewis dunked it home. Arizona’s 78-73 upset of No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium had its finishing touch.
The referees huddled around the monitor to see if the game was actually over. They would eventually put 0.6 seconds back on, just enough time to inbound the ball. But Caleb Love couldn’t wait. It was time to say good night.
Love turned toward the student section, the infamous Cameron Crazies, and began to wave.
“Bye bye,” he called to them. “Bye bye.”
The man who two years ago hit the dagger shot in UNC’s Final Four win over Duke had just led another team over the Blue Devils in his return to Cameron with Coach Mike Krzyzewski sitting courtside, this time as a spectator, because Love helped send him into retirement.
“I didn’t know he was there,” Love said, fighting to keep a grin off his face.
After an up-and-down year with the Tar Heels last season that saw UNC go from preseason No. 1 to on the outside looking in at tournament time, Love decided to transfer for his senior year. The Carolina team was racked with chemistry issues, some of which reportedly involved Love, and the parting was probably best for both sides. He ended up at Arizona, and he helped lead the No. 12-ranked Wildcats to victory over the hated Blue Devils in the second game of the season.
Love finished with 11 points, three assists and two steals. He also blocked a Mark Mitchell shot, jumping to stuff a player 5 inches taller. And while his shooting accuracy wasn’t good and he turned the ball over six times, Love was — as he always does against Duke — deadly at crunch time. He banked in a 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer to put Arizona up by eight, and he hit two free throws with seconds left to extend a one-point lead to three and set up the last-ditch shot that got him his final assist for the Lewis dunk. It also got him a gratifying win over a common enemy that helped him get through his return to the state he left with mixed feelings after last season.
On his game shoes, Love wrote the phrase “Tar Heel 4L”—for life.
“That’s what I am,” he explained. “I’m a Tar Heel for life, regardless of what our differences are or what happened in the past. I’ve still got love for Tar Heel Nation. I love them.”
He got in touch with some of his former teammates when he returned to the state for the game.
“I talked to some of them,” he said. “They just told me to handle business. I told them I’m getting this win for them.”
His new teammates also appreciated the win.
“We all know what it is,” said Keshad Johnson, who led Arizona with 14 points and 8 rebounds. “We know he was once a Tar Heel and the route they’ve got between there (the well-documented eight miles separating the schools). We knew coming in we had to have his back. He’s a brother for life. He says he’s a Tar Heel for life, but he’s got brothers here too, as soon as he put on that Arizona basketball jersey.”
And, as for his wave to the fans as he left Coach K Court for the final time?
“I just told them goodbye,” he said. “It’s over with … I’m glad I went out on top, for sure.”