It was probably just a cute college prank.
Although there's no proof, the odds are it was some Duke student who climbed to the top of the Dean E. Smith Center earlier this week and swiped the jersey of North Carolina legend Michael Jordan that hung from the rafters.But that clever Dukie was worried about the wrong number.
Jordan's No. 23 is retired. It couldn't hurt the Blue Devils in Thursday night's No. 1-against-No. 2 showdown.
The number Duke needed to fear was 33 - worn by current North Carolina star Antawn Jamison.
Because while Jordan's missing jersey probably adorned some inflatable doll sitting next to a beer keg in a Duke fraternity house, Jamison staked his claim to national player of the year honors while knocking the archrival Blue Devils off the top of the national polls.
Jamison turned in a Jordanlike performance by making 14 of 20 shots for a game-high 35 points and grabbing 11 rebounds as the second-ranked Tar Heels dismantled Duke, 97-73, in front of a Dean Dome record crowd of 22,050.
"It was terrific," said Jamison, a 6-9 junior forward who averages 22.8 points and 9.8 rebounds a game. "We kind of struggled for the first couple of minutes, but once we started getting it going, we just totally had fun out there."
The Heels just took advantage of what Duke gave them.
The Blue Devils didn't double-team Jamison, who in three games against Duke here has scored 23, 33 and now 35. They thought super freshman Shane Battier could handle him one-on-one.
Battier couldn't, and Carolina made the Blue Devils pay for it by continuously feeding the ball inside to Jamison.
"We feel Antawn is unstoppable out there if he's not double-teamed," sophomore point guard Ed Cota said. "If there's single coverage, he can score at will."
The most anticipated college showdown of the season turned into a referendum on Carolina as the team to beat in this year's NCAA Tournament.
"I apologize," said first-year coach Bill Guthridge, who took over when Dean Smith retired before this season after 36 years. "I hope none of you were trampled by our fans after a great victory.
Elsewhere, in the Top 25, it was No. 4 Arizona 112, Washington 81; Oregon 97, No. 6 UCLA 81; No. 12 New Mexico 89, Wyoming 59; No. 20 Cincinnati 109, DePaul 73; and No. 22 George Washington 82, La Salle 65.