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Seniors Outlast Carolina, 66-58
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Seniors Outlast Carolina, 66-58
Player by Player
Seniors Outlast Carolina, 66-58
By Rob Clough
February 27, 2011


Game Recap

Duke's win over UNC was typical of their wins over top 25 teams this year. The team did not shoot well (35%), turned the ball over a lot (17 times) and missed easy shots inside. On the other hand, they held the country's 12th-ranked offense 20 points under their average, forced 19 turnovers and got some solid offensive production from a number of players. The Devils had a lot of pressure on them in this game: they were fighting for the regular season championship, they were trying to avoid being swept by their arch-rivals, they continue to jockey for a high NCAA tournament seed, and they were dealing with all the attendant emotions that surround Senior Day. I think those emotions worked against the Devils in the early going as UNC got off to an early lead, but Duke settled down and was able to channel the energy of the crowd and the moment into getting rebounds and making plays.

This was an important win because Duke faced a team that was every bit as physical as they were and didn't flinch. The officials called the game fairly tightly in the early going, which worked to Duke's advantage as UNC center Chay Shegog picked up 2 quick fouls. As the players adjusted, the officials let the two teams really battle it out for rebounds, rewarding the players who fought the hardest. Duke notably changed some of their strategies in this game. They switched up their defenses much more often and pressed only sparingly. Instead of simply using a soft zone, Duke switched between 2-3 and 3-2 zones as well as playing aggressive man-to-man defense. The Devils were always conscious of where UNC's leading scorer Italee Lucas was at all times and limited her to 6-20 shooting from the floor. As a team, the Heels hit only 4 of 19 from long range. This was precisely the way to play the Heels: body up their post players, cut off their penetrators, and force them to shoot contested shots from long range. It's a matter of picking one's poison, but the percentages dictate this is the way to go. Contrast that to the first game, where the Devils pressed and gave up lots of easy points as a result. UNC has been a tough matchup for Duke this year because they neutralize a number of Duke's strengths. They have the size to deal with Duke's bigs. They have the depth to bring in capable bigs and guards off the bench. They're every bit as quick as Duke. They're every bit as physical as Duke. They block shots and steal the ball like the Devils and are used to intimidating opponents with their physicality. As a result, these games pretty much come down to effort plays like rebounding and who can hit a few more open shots. After seeing that Duke won the rebounding battle, you could pretty much bet that the Devils had won the game.

Tricia Liston again started in place of Chelsea Gray and began by scoring on a nifty spin move along the baseline. After Krystal Thomas hit a foul shot, Lucas tied it up with a trey to trigger a 9-0 Carolina run. Back-to-back turnovers by Jasmine Thomas (at the point in Gray's absence) led to easy UNC scores, but Duke simply took a breath and went back to work. Jaz found Allison Vernerey on the left block for an easy hook shot and then sank a three on a pass back from Vernerey. UNC responded to that punch with a counterpunch of their own as they rattled off 6 straight points. Duke missed some chippies inside during the run as Gray made her return to the lineup after missing a game. She was not close to being the same player she was before the injury, showing a good bit of rust and less mobility in general. She committed a foul in transition, missed three shots and committed a turnover during her brief stint. Coach McCallie said that it's unlikely that she'll be much of a factor in the ACC tournament at this point, given that she'd have to theoretically play three games in three days.

The Heels twice had chances to extend their lead and blew it both times. Lucas tried to get cute with a reverse drive along the baseline that didn't drop and then Liston stole the ball from She'La White. She got the ball back from J.Thomas in transition for an easy score that fired up the crowd. Lucas took a contested three that missed and Jasmine found Karima Christmas sank a rare three to make it 15-13. After 2 UNC foul shots, the Heels turned the ball over on 3 straight possessions. Rima pulled up for a 5' jumper after one steal while Jasmine completed a three point play in transition after another one to give Duke an 18-17 lead. Christmas hit 2 foul shots to push Duke's lead to 3 with 8:18 to go in the half. The fouls continued to fly and Allison Vernerey converted 3 of 4 from the line. After UNC's Waltiea Rolle somehow missed 2 wide-open, point blank shots, the Devils made them pay when Rima found Shay Selby for a corner three. That made the score 26-19 and gave Duke some momentum.

UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell halted that momentum with a time-out and a clutch three from Lucas. After going scoreless for nearly three minutes, the Heels badly needed that shot. The Devils went on a drought of their own as they scored just 3 points the rest of the half and missed their last 8 shots. A layup from Christmas (who was finding open teammates all night thanks to UNC guarding her closely off the dribble) to Vernerey made it 28-24. K.Thomas came up with a steal and Selby had another wide open shot, but this time it missed. UNC grabbed the long carom and quickly scored, eventually establishing a 31-28 lead. They had the ball and a chance to extend their lead, but Lucas missed a three and Breland fouled Chloe Wells. She hit 1 of 2 to make it 31-29. Hatchell was furious that Krystal took the ball out of the basket and eventually handed it to the UNC inbounder -- which is a delay of game. She was campaigning for a technical foul to be called, but of course in these situations she would have received a warning. I'm guessing that in this situation, the refs didn't make a big deal of it because the clock was running down. Duke shot just 24% in the first half and was outrebounded, 29-25. The one area where UNC dominated was second chance points, where they held an 8-2 edge.

It was clear that Duke set out to get the ball to Krystal Thomas early in the second half as well as find ways for Jasmine Thomas to get shots. On Duke's first possession, however, Liston found Vernerey rolling to the basket for an easy score. Lucas hit a short jumper but Jaz countered with a pull-up jumper that dropped in. She had missed all sorts of drives in the first half and so went back to her bread-and-butter shot. Liston blocked Krista Gross and K.Thomas posted up and sank a left-handed hook shot to put Duke up 35-33. Duke blew some close-in shots over the next couple of minutes as well as a couple of free throws, allowing the Heels to creep back into the game thanks to some patient work on offense and close-in shots. They retook the lead at 37-35, but Christmas drained a three to make it 38-37. Duke would never trail again.

After UNC tied the game at 38, Jaz found Selby for a long baseline jumper to put Duke on top for good. Then came the Haley Peters show. After a turnover by Lucas, a double-teamed Christmas found Peters cutting to the basket for a score. Seeing the ball go through the net always helps with her confidence, and she followed that up with a heavily-contested right-handed hook and a ridiculous reverse that teetered on the rim for a moment before dropping in. That basket came a moment after UNC's Jessica Breland absolutely snuffed out a shot attempt and demonstrated just how much confidence she had at that point. At last, Peters got in a high pressure situation and simply reacted instead of having to stop and think about what to do. It's a simple case of the game slowing down, even in the highest of high-pressure situations. That basket came after Selby pulled up for a 17' jumper and nailed it, giving Duke a 48-42 lead with 12:45 to go. It also marked the start of a 10-0 run.

That run gave Duke just enough of a working margin to keep the Heels at bay for the rest of the game and force them into catchup mode. The Heels missed 4 shots and 2 free throws while committing 2 turnovers during this span. Jasmine pulled up and hit a 17' jumper to make it 50-42 and then came up with a steal. She hit Christmas for her third 3 of the game (more than doubling her prior 2011 output!) to make it 53-42. Neither team scored for a couple of minutes until Liston found Jaz for a three with 9:42 left in the game. That was a gut-punch of a shot that Duke lived off for the next five minutes. The Heels slowly crept their way back into the game as Duke missed 3 of 4 foul shots. A three by Lucas bounced in, bounced out and then bounced back in to make the score 57-49 with 5:36 to go. Liston then what may have been the biggest shot of the game: a three after she took one dribble to shed a defender that barely disturbed the nets. From there, UNC was in catch-up mode full time. White matched that with a three, but Christmas found Vernerey inside to make it 62-52 with 3:37 left. Gross hit 2 foul shots, but J.Thomas snaked her way around several defenders for a layup with three minutes to go.

Duke didn't score another field goal the rest of the way and Shegog scored on a three point play with 1:29 left to pull UNC within 64-58. Christmas missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:04 left that would have made the lead 11, but she hit 1 of 2 to give Duke a three-possession lead with 1:02 left. The Devils then threw the kitchen sink at Lucas defensively, who was determined to take a shot. At one point, Duke threw 3 defenders Lucas' way to force her to shoot from way behind the line. After burning many precious seconds, she wound up shooting an airball. Jaz closed it out by hitting 1 of 2 free throws, and the celebration was on. The Devils outrebounded the Heels by 11 in the second half as Duke held them to their second-lowest point total of the season. Jasmine was 4-9 in the half (11 of her 17 points after the break), while Christmas & K.Thomas alone combined for 13 rebounds to 17 total for UNC. Peters had 6 points and 5 boards in the half. Duke had a big edge in points off turnovers (12-5), shot 47% from the field and 4-8 from three. While there were turnovers, fouls and some wild shots here and there, the team played with a tremendous amount of togetherness on offense to go with their usual tenaciousness on defense.

After the game, the seniors all spoke. Karima broke down moments into her speech after seeing her family and was teary-eyed throughout her speech. Krystal's speech was especially powerful as she also started weeping when talking about her deceased mother, who was a tremendous source of strength for her. Her family background has been well-publicized, but this is the first time I've ever seen her get emotional when talking about her mother. It felt like four years' worth of emotion spilling over on the floor. The team then cut down the nets to celebrate an undefeated season at home against some truly worthwhile opponents (8 victories over top 25 foes) as well as a second consecutive (if shared) regular season title. The team will now prepare for Game #6 of the ACC tournament on Friday at 3pm, as they will take on the winner of Virginia and Wake Forest.

Seniors Outlast Carolina, 66-58
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Seniors Outlast Carolina, 66-58
Player by Player

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