By Rob Clough|
Parsing The Week's Results:
The biggest news this week in the ACC was the announcement that Duke's Chelsea Gray fractured her kneecap in Duke's win over Boston College. In what was otherwise a routine win for Duke, one where its defensive pressure made the Eagles unable to operate their offense for long stretches of time, the fact that Gray is now out is a huge blow for the Blue Devils and tightens up the ACC race even more. Once again, the Devils will turn to Alexis Jones to take over at point guard, much as they did last year when Gray was injured. The Devils will need to lean even more on center Elizabeth Williams, whose improved recent play helped Duke to an easy win against Syracuse on the road.
Notre Dame is just about neck-and-neck with Duke in the power rankings. They crushed Boston College, which has a similar makeup but with more regional recruits rather than 5 star talent. As such, Notre Dame was easily able to suffocate their perimeter game. Curiously, a heretofore punchless Virginia squad gave the Irish everything they wanted, and Notre Dame barely escaped Charlottesville with a win. The Irish gave up a number of open shots and more disturbingly started fouling down the stretch. Virginia was within 71-68 but missed three of four foul shots, and the Irish closed things out in the final two minutes.
Meanwhile, Maryland cruised to an easy win over Wake Forest, the team that's struggling with basics like foul shooting. The Deacs are finding that teams are zeroing in on scorer Chelsea Douglas after her 48 point outburst, and her numbers have taken a dip as a result. Florida State earned a close win against Miami, overcoming a halftime deficit by getting to the foul line and grinding out a win. Morgan Jones also hit a couple of crucial threes. On the other hand, Miami took down Virginia Tech thanks to ten late points by Adrienne Motley and Caprice Dennis, just barely pushing the Canes ahead. It's yet another example of the games between mid-level ACC teams coming down to the wire nearly every time. Consider NC State: down by 13 with about five minutes to go, the Pack came within five points on several different occasions. NC State was 9-14 from the foul line down the stretch against Wake Forest, which was enough to stretch their lead after the Deacs came within five points with two minutes left. The teams that get the details right -- hittiing free throws, avoiding turnovers, guarding shooters rather than leaving wide open -- will get the wins.
Best Win: Syracuse 76, Georgia Tech 70. This represents the kind of win that the mid-level ACC teams need in order to build a postseason resume. The fact that Syracuse got blown out by Duke is far less important than the fact that they overcame an eight point deficit with under seven minutes to go to pull out this win. Stars Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes combined to score 18 of the Orange's final 21 points, including 11 of 12 in the run that erased the deficit and put Syracuse in control. Tech's Ty Marshall had 24 points but missed a pair of crucial foul shots down the stretch. The Orange also stepped up on defense down the stretch, coming up with a couple of steals and a couple of blocks.
Worst Loss: Clemson 77, Pitt 67. Few road wins were more attainable for the Panthers than a contest at reeling Clemson, but they simply couldn't handle the Tigers' Nikki Dixon. She outdueled Pitt's Brianna Kiesel (21 points) with 29 points and 11 rebounds. The Tigers also dominated the boards and got some nice perimeter support from Kelly Gramlich (4-8 from three), but it really came down to a single player exerting her will on her opponent. Clemson has been waiting for this kind of showing from Dixon all season, especially after what seemed like might have been a season-ending injury. When Dixon shows up like this, Clemson is competitive.
Trending Up: North Carolina. The Heels learned some hard lessons from Maryland and applied them to two excellent wins against quality opponents. They dominated NC State for close to thirty minutes before they got sloppy and let the Pack back in, but the Heels closed the game out. They overcame a first half deficit on the road against Florida State and pulled out a tough win, earning a major resume-building victory. The common factor in both games was the dominance of Diamond DeShields. She's now fully adapted to the college game and is a much better judge of how and when to attack than she was earlier in the year. While her scoring has been up and her shooting has greatly improved from all over the floor, what I'm most impressed about with regard to her play is her rebounding. It's predicated not only on quickness but also toughness and a willingness to wade right into the action for a board. It should also be noted that when the Heels were frantically trying to hold on to a four point lead late in the game, it was veteran Brittany Rountree who nailed a dagger three that put the game away. That said, the Heels' inability to hit free throws late is still a concern, albeit not a fatal one in this case. There's no question that they got much better last week.
Trending Down: Virginia Tech. The Hokies lost a pair of close games they really needed to win in a manner almost identical to their last pair of losses. Uju Ugoka has been dominant, Monet Tellier has been solid and Vanessa Panousis has been as steady as a freshman point guard can be expected to be. Everyone else for the Hokies has been erratic at best, and that includes the bench. Virginia Tech had an eight point lead over Miami with eight minutes to go and then slowly fell apart. Two Panousis turnovers and a miss by Ugoka led to seven points in less than a minute for Miami, who turned up the defensive pressure. After a series of turnovers and missed shots, VT's Taijah Campbell got a stickback to put her team back up, but the Hokies couldn't make the most of the opportunities that they found in front of them. For example, Miami's Maria Brown missed a free throw that would have made it 65-62. Down just two, the Hokies incredibly got three shots at the basket and failed to tie or take the lead, and time ran out. Against the arch-rival Hoos, the Hokies blew a 14-point second half lead but failed to score a field goal in the last seven minutes of the game and any kind of point in the last three minutes. There's no question that Virginia Tech should have won both of these games but simply doesn't know how to close out against solid opponents as of yet.
Stat Of the Week: 15-33, 45%. This was Wake Forest's free throw performance in an eight point loss to NC State. Needless to say, this proved to be the factor that prevented the Deacs from earning a solid upset, and a good part of the reason they're now ranked last in the power rankings.
Five Games To Watch (1/16-1/23/14):