Blue Devils stuff Tar Heels
In a physical rivalry game with No. 15 North Carolina, No. 5 Duke turned to its defense to keep the upper hand on Sunday.
The Blue Devils held UNC without a field goal for a nine-minute stretch of the second half, allowing them to erase a six-point deficit and post a 65-58 ACC women’s basketball win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke’s sixth consecutive win over UNC means the Blue Devils (27-2, 17-1 ACC), in the first season of the ACC’s expanded 18-game league schedule, are the first to win 17 league games in one season.
“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said after the teams combined for 51 turnovers and neither made 40 percent of its shots. “Anytime you have that many turnovers you kind of want to wide that out on the stat sheet. But it’s not about pretty this time of year. We concluded a very fine season.”
Duke’s offense remains in flux, as the Blue Devils navigate the rest of the season without injured point guard Chelsea Gray, who injured her knee on Feb. 17. The Blue Devils shot only 38 percent and turned the ball over 29 times against UNC on Sunday.
The good news for Duke was the Tar Heels had even more trouble getting and making shots.
UNC (26-5, 14-4) shot 29.7 percent while committing 22 turnovers. No UNC player made more than half of her shots.
The Tar Heels, after leading 27-26 at intermission, got a basket in the lane from Waltiea Rolle and a 3-pointer from Brittany Rountree to build their largest lead at 32-26 with 18:52 to play.
But UNC missed its next 19 shots from the field, a streak of futility that didn’t end until the 9:09 mark when Rolle scored inside.
That allowed Duke to rip off a 22-2 run that put the Blue Devils in front for good.
Duke stymied UNC with a zone defense. The Tar Heels unsuccessfully attempted to shoot over it. A few times, UNC worked the ball in the middle only to see close shots fall off.
“We missed a lot of shots,” UNC guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt said. “We got good looks at open shots. We just couldn’t hit them.”
Meanwhile, Duke freshman Alexis Jones spearheaded Duke’s drive to take control of the game. The 5-8 guard, now with additional responsibility on offense since Gray’s injury, scored a game-high 22 points with four assists and four rebounds.
“I’m pretty comfortable in the offense that we’ve been playing,” Jones said. “We have played (four) games without Chelsea, so I’m pretty comfortable and fluid and just trying to direct and make sure we get the stops that we need on defense and execute on offense.”
During Duke’s 22-2 run, Jones scored six points while collecting one steal and assisting on two other Blue Devils baskets.
With just over 10 minutes to play, she rebounded a Ruffin-Pratt miss and dribbled the length of the court to score on a finger roll layup and give Duke a 45-34 lead.
Jones logged half of her points at the free throw line, where she was 11-of-12.
“She is one of the very best and certainly one of the best freshmen in the country,” McCallie said. “But she’s also one of the best guards in the league. I think that part of this is her knowing that and understanding what she can do in terms of changing the tempo of a game. We loved her getting to the line.”
UNC’s task of defending Jones was complicated by Rolle’s foul issues. She picked up two in the first two minutes of the game, had three before halftime and eventually fouled out.
The Duke win capped off the regular-season home career for its lone senior, 6-5 center Allison Vernerey. McCallie started Vernerey on Sunday but said it had nothing to do with Senior Day.
Duke’s 69-65 loss at Miami on Thursday caused McCallie to shake up her lineup.
“It’s funny, she didn’t start tonight because it’s Senior Day,” McCallie said. “That was sort of OK, but we’re coming in on a loss. And let’s understand, it wasn’t a happy loss because we didn’t make the stops against Miami like we did tonight. So the point to having Ali in there was to get some defense, rebounding, leadership and things of that nature.”
On to the Greensboro
While Duke wrapped up the ACC Tournament’s No. 1 seed last week, UNC didn’t learn its seed for this week’s tournament until after Sunday’s game.
The Tar Heels and Maryland each finished with 14-4 league records and the two teams split their regular-season games. Deciding who got the No. 2 seed came down to a coin flip, which an ACC official conducted following the Duke-UNC game.
Maryland won the flip and is the No. 2 seed for the tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.
UNC, with the No. 3 seed, will play Friday at 8 p.m. against the winner of Thursday’s 8 p.m. first-round game between No. 6 seed Virginia and No. 11 seed Boston College.
No. 1 seed Duke plays Friday at 2 p.m. against the winner of Thursday’s 2 p.m. first-round game between eighth-seeded N.C. State and No. 9 seed Clemson.
No. 5 Duke 65, No. 15 UNC 58
Percentages: FG .297, FT .429. 3-Point Goals: 5-20, .250 (Buckland 2-4, Rountree 2-9, Ruffin-Pratt 1-3, Gross 0-1, Coleman 0-1, McDaniel 0-2). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 2 (Rolle, Gross). Turnovers: 22 (McDaniel 6, Gross 4, Ruffin-Pratt 4, Coleman 3, Rolle 2, Buckland, Butts, Rountree). Steals: 13 (Butts 4, Ruffin-Pratt 3, Gross 2, Rolle 2, Rountree, Coleman). Technical Fouls: Rountree.
Percentages: FG .377, FT .767. 3-Point Goals: 2-11, .182 (Liston 1-4, Jones 1-4, Jackson 0-1, Peters 0-2). Team Rebounds: 9. Blocked Shots: 8 (Williams 5, Vernerey 2, Liston). Turnovers: 29 (Peters 7, Liston 6, Jones 5, Wells 4, Williams 3, Jackson 2, Johnson). Steals: 12 (Jackson 3, Williams 2, Peters 2, Wells 2, Jones, Vernerey, Liston).
A—9,314. Officials—Dee Kantner, Denise Brooks, Bonita Spence.