CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Duke and North Carolina, two neighbors separated by only a few miles and a few shades of blue, are anything but neighborly to each other.
"We see each other a lot, being so close to each other, so it doesn't mean much off the court," said Duke junior Brian Davis. "But when we get out on the court, there's no other team that I hate more. To lose a game to Carolina is twice as big because you hear about it so much. But to beat Carolina is three times as nice."
If that's the case, yesterday's 83-77 win over the fourth-ranked Tar Heels furnished Davis and his seventh-ranked Duke teammates with a heightened state of bliss and the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title to boot.
The Blue Devils (25-6, 11-3 in the ACC) nailed down the top seed in next weekend's ACC tournament as well as a bye into the semifinals -- made possible by Maryland's absence from the tournament because of NCAA sanctions -- by beating North Carolina (22-5, 10-4) at its own game.
Namely, Duke, not heretofore known as an aggressive team, set the tone by getting physical with the taller Tar Heels.
Center Christian Laettner set a teeth-rattling screen in the first half on North Carolina freshman Derrick Phelps to free point guard Bobby Hurley.
A few minutes later, Davis threw freshman center Eric Montross to the floor while they contested a rebound and later had words with King Rice after a call.
"We weren't going to back down," said freshman Grant Hill. "We're men and we were going to play like men."
"We came out to play as hard as we could possibly play," said Laettner, who had 18 points and four rebounds. "We were just raring to go."
Duke broke out early, taking a 10-point halftime lead and threatening to run the Tar Heels right out of their powder blue home.
That lead was due, in no small part, to the play of Hill, a freshman who is just now starting to live up to the expectations of those who declared him a phenom before the season.
Hill, a 6-foot-7 forward who can handle the ball like a guard, caused North Carolina more than a few matchup problems. He proved too big for the Carolina guards and too quick for the forwards.
"We didn't take advantage of our size, but they did," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
"By that, I mean Grant Hill was taking on our big guys. It's unfair to ask our 6-11 guys to guard a brilliant athlete like him."
The Tar Heels compensated though, switching to a second-half trap that took Duke out of its halfcourt offense. Duke went for more than six minutes late in the game without a field goal.
But the Blue Devils sustained themselves with free throws and important defensive stops along the way.
The Blue Devils, who frittered away the chance to win last year's regular-season title with late losses to Clemson and North Carolina, were determined not to let this opportunity slip away.
"If this is last year's team, we don't rally," said Davis, who along with Laettner has come to be a team leader. "We kept going at it and we just hung together."
"I'm so proud of our guys," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We have eight freshmen and sophomores. They've grown up a lot. They're a very tough basketball team."
ACC tournament pairings
Pairings for the 1991 Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament, which begins Friday at the Charlotte Coliseum.
0`FIRST ROUND/Friday's Games (ESPN) * No. 4 North Carolina State vs. No. 5 Georgia Tech, 2 p.m.
No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 7 Clemson, 7 p.m.
* No. 3 Wake Forest vs. No. 6 Virginia, 9 p.m.
* No. 1 Duke has first-round bye.
SEMIFINALS/Saturday's Games (ESPN) * No. 1 vs. winner of game between seeds 4 and 5, 1:30 p.m.
Winners of games between seeds 2 and 7, and seeds 3 and 6., 3:30 p.m.
CHAMPIONSHIP/Sunday's Game (Channel 11) * Winners of Saturday's semifinals, 2:30 p.m.