By Rob Clough, Photos by Orin Day|
In an epic, intense game that was one of the most memorable battles between the two programs in the ACC tournament, Duke (27-5) defeated arch-rival UNC (24-9) in the second semifinal. Unlike the first two games between the old foes, where the Heels quickly took control of the game and forced Duke to come back over the course of the entire game, this game was far closer throughout and featured mini-comebacks by both teams. The Devils blew out to a quick 8-0 lead behind a three by Haley Peters and five quick points by Tricia Liston. Duke held the Heels at arm's length for a few minutes, but UNC's Diamond DeShields and Allisha Gray both hit tough jump shots to forestall a potentially large early lead for the Devils. Both teams played intense defense and clogged up driving lanes and easy looks at the basket. Every shot was contested, but Stephanie Mavunga hit a short baseline jumper to tie the score at 14-14.
The Devils started to get easier looks at the basket, as Richa Jackson twice scored on physical drives to the basket. She managed to find a gap in the coverage and squeezed through it to get to the hoop. A stickback by Elizabeth Williams gave Duke a six point lead. DeShields buried a trey to keep the Heels close, but the Devils kept manufacturing points inside. However, Duke missed out on extending their lead when they missed a few free throws. DeShields tied the game at 28 with another contested jumper, but Duke's Ka'lia Johnson drove hard to the hoop for a score. DeShields missed a jumper as the half wound down, but Mavunga scored on a three point play to tie the game at the half. As one might expect, the stats were close, though the Heels had the edge in points off turnovers (7-4) and second chance point 8-5. The Devils were +5 on the boards and mostly avoided foul trouble. This would become very important down the stretch, as three Heels picked up two fouls apiece in the first period.
The Heels came out in the second half and drained back-to-back threes by Gray and DeShields. Duke quickly stopped the bleeding with a drive by Haley Peters, but DeShields hit another three to give UNC their biggest lead at seven. Williams scored inside, but DeShields sank another long-range basket to make it 43-35 just three minutes into the half. Duke responded with a 7-0 run capped by a Liston three, but the Heels continued to hold Duke at arm's length. With about eleven minutes to go, UNC did not take advantage of a drought by Duke to extend the lead. Jackson scored on a drive to cut the lead to three, and then a competitive game got a whole lot more intense.
DeShields sank a three contested by Peters and then yelled in Peters' face. She was immediately whistled for a technical foul, consistent with what happened earlier in the tournament when Nariah Taylor of Georgia Tech was t'd up after yelling in a player's face after a block. Liston sank both foul shots but Jackson turned the ball over, and the Heels restored their six point lead on a nifty jump-and-dump from DeShields in the lane to Mavunga in the low post. Duke's Amber Henson found herself open and rattled in a jumper from the top of the key. After UNC hit a foul shot, Johnson was fouled going up after grabbing an offensive board, sinking both to make it 55-52 in favor of UNC. McDaniel missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Williams found Johnson alone in the corner for a huge trey that tied the game at 55 with five minutes to go.
Mavunga and DeShields scored to make the margin four again. After a Duke miss, Mavunga missed the front end of another one-and-one and then missed a layup. DeShields then threw the ball away, giving Duke several more chances of hanging in. Liston finally sank a trey to make it 59-58 with two minutes to go. McDaniel hit one foul shot, but Williams stuck back a missed layup by Peters, knotting the game at 60 with 1:18 left. UNC's Latifah Coleman badly missed a layup, but Williams blocked Mavunga's follow up shot and Johnson rebounded it and was fouled. That play fouled out Mavunga, and Johnson, a 68% foul shooter this season, confidently swished both. Williams fouled out when she hit UNC's N'Dea Bryant on the arm, but Bryant only hit one shot. After a mad scramble across the floor that featured Duke attempting to inbound the ball several times, Duke reserve Oderah Chidom was fouled. A 55% foul shooter, she calmly sank both shots. DeShields loaded up a three that went in and out and was rebounded by Chidom. Fouled again, the nets barely moved as she hit both shots. That made it 66-61 and clinched the game for the Devils. It was a tough loss for the Heels, who were on the verge of making it very difficult for Duke to come back but couldn't quite get there. Both teams had to fight hard to score and both teams made mistakes but rarely allowed their opponent to quickly take advantage of them. One of the most important stats of the game for Duke was that they had a 4-0 edge in fast break points. This speaks to the way Duke didn't allow live-ball turnovers and controlled the game's tempo.
Why Duke Won: The Devils won because they fully embraced their new identity as a team that relies on defense, rebounding and manufacturing points. They were +7 on the boards against a team that dominated them last time out and won the points in the paint battle 28-14. The Devils also hit just enough of their hard-won foul shots to win the game.
Why UNC Lost: The Heels didn't get quite enough balance on offense, as Xylina McDaniel was held in check and the Heels were mostly a jump-shooting team. That jump shooting was nearly enough to win them the game, but they had opportunities to put Duke away in the second half and squandered them with quick or contested shots.
The Game Turned When...: UNC's Diamond DeShields got whistled for a technical foul for taunting with eight minutes left. The game went to a whole other level of intensity after that for both teams, but Duke in particular started to crawl back into the game by making tough shots, tying the game at 55 and sending the game to its thrilling conclusion in the final five minutes.
X-Factor: Ka'lia Johnson. Once again, Johnson was the spark that Duke needed at both ends. She made mistakes, but for every bad play she had three crucial hustle plays. Her aggressiveness and confidence in the face of the challenge in front of her has been remarkable.
Key Stat: Bench scoring: Duke 10, UNC 3. The Heels came into this game as the deeper team, but Duke's bench wound up being more productive, allowing the Devils to substitute liberally and for long periods of time.
Areas for Improvement: Duke had 17 turnovers, though few of them came from live ball errors. The Devils also lost Gray several times early in the second half, though they did a better job of it in the second half. The Heels lost their focus a bit after they took a second half lead, especially on the defensive end where Duke was able to drive to the hoop.
Ramifications: Duke has likely reclaimed a #2 seed in the NCAA with the win. They'll have a chance to redeem themselves against the other team that swept them this year in Notre Dame, though that will obviously be a far greater challenge. The Heels will likely be a three or four seed, depending on the outcome of other games.
They Said It: "What Notre Dame brings to the league is what Connecticut did for Notre Dame. Connecticut taught Notre Dame you've got to execute. You've got to be able to score. This is a league that's been more defensive dominated...Notre Dame brings to the game precision...on the offensive end and good position defense. They're going to make everybody in the league have to step it up to play because of the precision on the offensive end." -- UNC associate head coach Andrew Calder, on the upcoming Duke-Notre Dame final.
DWHoops Photos by Orin Day
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