Blue Devils beat a path to the ACC title

Mar. 10, 2013 @ 11:08 PM

Two days in a row, the opposing head coach commented about the physical nature of their game against Duke in the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament.

“It’s extremely physical,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said Sunday after Duke’s 92-73 victory in the championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum. “I’ve been doing this for 38 years; I wish we could make the game smoother, more flow to the game where players could show their skills and abilities a little more.

“I think we could make a couple of rule changes that would do that, but also clean it up a lot, too. And I think that would be great for the game, but I don’t make those decisions — that’s just my opinion.”

What was Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie’s reaction?

“It’s quite a compliment,” McCallie said. “Most people say that Duke is not physical. It’s a great thing. We want to be physical, strong and really get after it. That’s an important piece of the game.”

It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy the finesse part of college basketball or wants to see players injured. It’s just that she has seen what it takes to win in the postseason.

“When comes down to the Final Four and the teams I’ve had in the Final Four (playing) for a national championship, it comes down to who can get the ball; who can get after it, who’s tough enough to make the really hard plays,” McCallie said. “At the highest level, you better be ready to battle physically — physically without fouling, but physically.”

In fact, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels combined for 46 fouls when Duke claimed its third ACC title in four seasons.

That’s a sharp contrast to Saturday’s semifinal game, when Duke and Florida State combined for only three fouls in the first half and 19 overall in the Blue Devils’ 72-66 win.

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“Today was officiated much differently than (Saturday),” said Haley Peters, one of two Duke players who fouled out on Sunday. “They let a lot of stuff go (Saturday), and today they didn’t. I don’t know that I did a great job of recognizing it.

“It gets physical inside, and you just have to be able to dictate it a little bit and do a better job of not picking up stupid fouls that I did.”

Peters, who finished with 17 points against UNC, clearly is one of Duke’s grittiest players. But McCallie said she sees that commitment in point guard Alexis Jones and center Elizabeth Williams, who both had 24 points.

“(Alexis) is tough in her own right,” McCallie said. “Lex is special; she doesn’t back down from anybody.

“Elizabeth has, moreso, learned that the game can’t just be finesse. She’s got beautiful finesse moves, but there’s a time to make a point with power and strength.”

UNC attempted 29 free throws on Sunday and made 26; Duke went to the line 27 times and sank 22. So that sounds like a fairly even match.

“I know last year I talked about how physical it was,” Hatchell said. “I decided this year, hey, we’re just going to match everybody else with how physical we are.”

No argument there from Peters.

“I think it’s the nature of the ACC and this tournament,” said Peters, who was named to the all-tournament team. “The teams that we played, especially North Carolina, has the big bodies inside and they’re very physical. Our games with them are always very physical. ...

“We talk about it before the game, about dictating the physical play, about bumping cutters and slowing people down and not letting people push you around. You’re not going to win if you let people push you around.”

Hatchell, of course, knows plenty about winning. Her 1994 team was the first from the ACC to win an NCAA women’s basketball championship.

Now McCallie hopes she has the formula right for the Blue Devils to make a push for a national title.

You may contact Jimmy DuPree at jdupree@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6674.