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Tar Heels Smash Devils, 64-54
Team Box
Tar Heels Smash Devils, 64-54
Player by Player
Tar Heels Smash Devils, 64-54
By Rob Clough
February 28, 2010


Game Recap

For a while, the Duke-UNC game was a match-up of two teams trying to find ways around enormous difficulties. Duke couldn't hit the broad side of a barn and they had trouble attacking UNC's suddenly-formidable array of shot-blockers, but they adjusted by relying on their ability to cause turnovers. The Heels couldn't finish shots, hang on to the ball or block Duke out, but they compensated by hustling after every loose ball and getting to the foul line. It looked like Duke had figured out their difficulties and had the Heels on the ropes, until the game went from merely intense to extremely heated. The host Heels rode that emotion and us-against-the-world attitude, jarring the sloppy Blue Devils by making all the play in the last ten minutes. In the last few games, Duke had been dominant in end-game situations, but they fell apart against a team that seemed to care a lot more about the outcome than they did.

To a degree, it's understandable: Duke had already clinched the top spot in the ACC tournament and didn't have much to play for other than the dim hope of a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. On the other hand, the Heels were playing for pride on Senior Day. They were humiliated by their arch-rival in their first meeting and in general were trying to deal with a disaster of a season. The Heels hadn't finished as low as 8th place in something like 20 years, and while this team is young, there's a world of talent. I think we saw some of that young talent grow up in this game. What's unfortunate is that there's an excellent chance that Duke will have to deal with it again in five days, as the Heels will tangle with the Maryland Terrapins in a Thursday game in the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils get the winner Friday.

The first half was one where Duke was unable to hit anything (27% from the field) or get to the foul line (just 2 attempts). Despite that problem, and a 7-0 edge to the Heels in second-chance points, the Devils trailed by just 4. It was their defense that saved them, forcing 16 turnovers. The Heels opened with a box-and-one on Jasmine Thomas, who bricked a number of her early shots. UNC got on the scoreboard with stickbacks on several of their early possessions, staking themselves to an 8-2 lead three minutes into the game. Jasmine found Shay Selby for a three, but that was quickly matched by Krista Gross. Joy Cheek hit a 15' jumper and Thomas broke down frosh Nyree Williams for a layup after she stole the ball from UNC's Cetera DeGraffenreid.

After a strong rebound by Keturah Jackson, Selby quickly got the ball and found KJ in transition to tie the game at 11. She'la White hit a three and a short jumper to put the Heels up by 5, but Karima Christmas had a steal & layup. Duke went cold for three minutes as the Heels extended their lead to 20-13. Jasmine found Allison Vernerey inside for a score after the Heels had blocked a number of earlier shots in the post. After a shot clock violation, J.Thomas then drained a 10' jumper. After another UNC turnover, Joy Cheek went off the dribble and turned her defender around for a layup to make it 20-19. Duke had a chacne to take the lead, but Selby missed a good look from three and Italee Lucas banked in a three to give the Heels a bit of a cushion.

Duke went cold for another three minutes before Jasmine hit a baseline jumper and then found Selby for a 15' jumper to make it 25-23. Waltiea Rolle scored inside, but Bridgette Mitchell found Christmas for a three with less than a minute left. Duke got the ball back twice but came up with a miss and a turnover, while White hit a three with four seconds left to give the Heels some more momentum going into the locker room. Cheek and J.Thomas combined for 5-19 shooting from the floor. The Devils had 10 turnovers of their own, with many coming thanks to UNC's swarming defense attacking the ball. A lot of bad passes were thrown at feet and some players weren't ready for good passes.

The Devils sent the Heels into disarray with a 14-4 run to start the second half, staking themselves to a 40-33 lead. Duke's offense started to run like a well-oiled machine as they got the Heels into foul trouble. Mitchell hit a foul shot and scored off a nice feed from Jackson. Cheek hit a 19' jumper and gave Duke the lead with a steal and runout. Thomas drove and was fouled, hitting both jumpers. After a Rolle jumper, Mitchell had a spectacular steal & runout and J.Thomas drained a three off a feed from Cheek. The Heels erased some of that lead, but the Devils still led 42-39 after a foul shot by Christmas.

Then came a controversial play: UNC's Cierra Robertson-Warren was ejected from the game after landing a hard elbow on Christmas's jaw after the two were jostling for position. On a scale of 1-10 of blatant UNC cheap shots (where 10 is Leah Metcalf punching Alana Beard in the stomach on a deadball play after she fouled out), this was about a 2. Christmas had an arm wrapped around Warren, who reacted by swinging the elbow. Swinging the elbow, by definition, is grounds for ejection, but I don't think it was a deliberately dirty play.

Weirdly, this is when the wheels started to come off for Duke. Jasmine Thomas missed 2 free throws for the flagrant foul. She took and sank one, but it was waved off because a substitution hadn't been made correctly. Then Karima Christmas was fouled taking a three, but missed all 3 foul shots. Duke got the ball back, but KJ missed the front end of a one-and-one. DeGraffenreid finally got to the line and broguht the Heels within 1. Mitchell came up with a steal and found Christmas for a layup to make it 44-41, but the Heels scored 6 in a row to take the lead.

Duke stayed close for the next four minutes. Christmas got back to the foul line and hit both, but White countered with a jumper. J.Thomas found K.Thomas for her only field goal of the game, but DeGraffenreid (ordinarily a terrible long range shooter) sank a big-time three that gave the Heels a two-possession lead. That would prove to be the cushion they needed to hold off Duke. Christmas had a stickback and KJ a foul shot to make it 54-51, but a three point play by DeGraffenreid gave the Heels a six point lead. The lead got up to 8 but Christmas hit 2 free throws to cut the lead to 59-53 with 1:41 left. The Devils got the ball back and J.Thomas threw up a three, but it missed and the Heels were in total control.

The difference-maker in the second half was DeGraffenreid, who torched Duke for 20 points--thirteen of them on foul shots alone. Her defense was a big key, as she stripped Duke's guards on several key possessions. Even though UNC's entire front line fouled out (Rolle, Warren and Chay Shegog), their quick lineup neutralized Duke's size and ability to score even as they gave up a few rebounds here and there. Christmas had 9 points in the second half and worked her butt off at both ends of the floor, but she simply didn't hit enough shots. Duke's post game was completely shut down by the Heels and the guards simply couldn't hit any threes (the team went 3-22 for the game).

Duke lacked patience on offense and focus at both ends of the floor. Effort wasn't the issue (and it's never been during the McCallie era), but execution was poor and often haphazard. While some shots simply didn't go down, there was little of the extra passing we've seen over the past few weeks to get the best available open shot against a zone. This game was a reminder that Duke can't get by on talent alone and needs everyone on the same page. They certainly won't be able to coast in their first-round ACC game; hopefully the fact that Duke struggled twice to beat Maryland and was just defeated by UNC will get everyone's attention.

Tar Heels Smash Devils, 64-54
Team Box
Tar Heels Smash Devils, 64-54
Player by Player

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