Armando Bacot (ankle) “ready to play” at the North Carolina Tar Heels at men’s basketball

NEW ORLEANS — North Carolina star Armando Bakut plans to play in the National Championship game against Kansas Monday night.

Baku sprained his right ankle in UNC’s 81-77 victory over Duke in the fourth final on Saturday. He left for less than a minute into the game after injury and moved with extreme caution in the final minutes of the second half. Tar Heels coach Hubert Davies said Bakout was scheduled to train on Sunday but stressed that the whole team’s training would be limited. He said the X-ray on Bacot was negative and the swelling was not overwhelming.

He’s ready to play tomorrow night,” Davis said.

Bacot is the hardest player for UNC to replace if limited. He is the program’s leading scorer (16.3 PPG) and bouncer (13.1 RPG), and his total rebounder ranks No. 3 in the state. It ranks eighth in defensive rebound percentage (30.2%) and 21st in offensive rebound ratio (14.9%), according to KenPom.com.

Bakut said Sunday that he has been treated almost permanently since the match ended. After getting the x-rays, he said he spent two hours treating the ankle and then got up and entered the pool for rehab on Sunday morning. He said that while working on homework to separate gym facilities on Sunday morning, he kept the ankle in compression sleeves. While meeting with the media on Sunday afternoon, he said he took a motivational therapy.

“We don’t have another big guy, so I don’t have a choice,” Bakout said.

The options that Tar Heels behind Bacot have are not attractive. They could take 6-foot-9 Brady Mannick to fifth, which he played frequently against Kansas while in Oklahoma. That would lead to a difficult mismatch within the UNC leadership against Kansas player David McCormack, who comes off a season-high by 25 points against Villanova.

McCormack is a 6-foot-10, 250-pound striker, whose comfort with contact made him a human bowling ball on Saturday night. Celebrate by flexing a self-congratulatory muscle on a night he went 10 vs 12 off the ground with nine rebounds.

Davis went so far as to say that the national title winner on Monday night “could ultimately go down to the winner of that game.”

If Bacot is limited in the title game and UNC wants Manek to avoid playing after defending against McCormack, the Heels can turn to either backup attackers Justin McKoy (6-8, 220) or Dontrez Styles (6-6, 210). None of these options are attractive to UNC.

“We don’t have any other big men,” Bakout said. “If I don’t play, who knows what Dave McCormack might do?”

It could be looming to miss 6-11 forward Dawson Garcia from UNC’s roster if Bacot is limited or finds a serious problem again. Garcia, a Marquette transfer, last played for UNC on January 22. The school announced in February that he would not be returning due to health issues in the family.

This gave Bakout a greater opportunity to dominate. In the NCAA Championships, he averaged 16.8 rebounds over five games. This included 21 rebounds against Duke and 22 rebounds against Saint Peter. “I feel like I’m the best in the country,” Bakout said.

Paco spent about a minute writhing on the floor in pain Saturday night against Duke after he appeared to tread on the foot of his teammate Leakey Black with 5:18 remaining. He got down to the bench limping without putting a weight on his right leg, his arms wrapped around two of his fellow walking across the field.

He initially said he was in so much pain that he didn’t even think about getting back into the game. Bakut wandered in the direction of the tunnel at the UNC seat, and said an impassioned talk from coach Doug Halverson gave him an adrenaline rush. Halverson reported that Joel Perry overcame ankle injuries on his way to the 2017 National title without any treatment.

When asked by one of his teammates about his health when checking back in the game with 4:36 hours left, Bakut remembers saying a saucy version of the phrase: “Forget it.” This was captured on video and spread on social media. Sunday added: “I mean, there are four minutes left for the national championship [game]. “

Bakout said on Sunday that he did not believe UNC would have won the match if he had not come back and played those four minutes. He committed a foul 46.7 seconds before the end of the match.