Struggling UNC hopes to end slide at rival Duke
While the North Carolina men’s basketball team will carry a five-game winning streak into its matchup with Duke on Wednesday, the Tar Heels’ women’s team is headed in the opposite direction going into today’s showdown at No. 5 Duke (7 p.m., ESPN2).
After losing just three times in its first 20 games, No. 13 North Carolina (17-6, 5-4 ACC) will come into Cameron Indoor Stadium on a three-game losing streak.
Sophomore Xylina McDaniel said that the issues start with defense. The Tar Heels have allowed at least 78 points in all of their losses but haven’t allowed more than 71 points in any of their wins.
“Our defense carries us,” McDaniel said. “When our defense is flowing then our offense is flowing, so we’ve really been focusing on defense.”
UNC leads the ACC in field goal percentage defense (34.9) and steals (12.8) and is second in blocks (5.0), but gave up a season-high 94 points in its most recent loss at Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels will need to improve their communication on defense in order to snap a seven-game losing streak to Duke and win in Cameron for the first time since 2008. No current UNC player was on the last team to beat the Blue Devils, which happened in 2011 at Carmichael Arena.
McDaniel said that she was nervous for her first appearance at Duke last season, but her older teammates calmed her down. Now it will be up to McDaniel to be the leader for a team that relies on four freshmen to play big roles, including top scorers Diamond DeShields (16.8) and Allisha Gray (14.2), top rebounder Stephanie Mavunga (9.2) and backup point guard Jessica Washington.
No matter if UNC is on a losing streak or a winning streak, Duke’s players look forward to the electric atmosphere that’s generated when the rivals get together.
“It’s really an exciting thing,” Duke senior forward Haley Peters said. “Coming into to Duke as a freshman you know all about the Duke-Carolina rivalry. Knowing we (seniors) just have two left, I want to play really well. For us as a team, the things they do well are exactly the things we need to get better at. Taking care of the ball, transition defense and just being tough. That game, you know it’s going to be physical and high energy. It’s exactly what we need.”
Duke (22-2, 9-1 in ACC) suffered its first league loss, 88-67, at home to Notre Dame on Feb. 2 but bounced back to win at Clemson 78-51 on Thursday night.
Duke let Clemson hang around for half the game before taking full control of the game in the second half.
“We started turning the ball over,” Peters said. “We really we beat ourselves in the first half and let them come back. We came back in the second half and moved the ball better than we had the last few games. Transition defense was good that game and we rebounded the ball well.”
The UNC game is part of a difficult stretch of games for the Blue Devils. After the No. 13 Tar Heels visit Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 10 Maryland and No. 14 N.C. State follow them to Durham to face the Blue Devils
“It’s exciting,” Peters said. “If you are a competitive person you don’t want to play in the games where you are winning by 50 points. You want to play in the games that are down to the wire and you have to really bring it in the end to win.”