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Photos: #1 Duke Blows Away #6 UNC, 81-66
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ACC Champs! #1 Duke Blows Away #6 UNC, 81-66
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ACC Champs! #1 Duke Blows Away #6 UNC, 81-66
By Rob Clough
March 6, 2011

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Game Recap


Duke's 7th ACC tournament title was capped off not only by one of their best games of the year, but by the best seven minutes of basketball this team has ever played together. Considering time, score, and championship game pressure, the Devils were absolutely at the top of their collective game when they had an opportunity to put away their arch-rival. Duke converted 7 of 12 shots during this stretch and was 4-4 from the foul line. Defensively, the Heels were one-and-done on play after play; they simply didn't have the juice to generate easy points or attack the offensive boards. Meanwhile, Duke poured on the pressure by throwing in yet more fresh legs with Richa Jackson and Chloe Wells.

Prior to that, however, this game was shaping up to be a tense classic. UNC was hitting tough jump shots and getting points in the paint. Duke's offense rarely stalled for long in the half, with the worst drought being 2 points in a five minute span. Being able to keep scoring pressure on the Heels and doing so with a combination of jumpers and post points kept them honest on defense and also prevented them from running as much as they would like. While the Heels did wind up with 11 fast break points, they only scored 2 in the first half. UNC loves to get easy points in transition, and taking that away slowed them down considerably.

Duke is a pretty sure bet to get a high #2 seed, with Dayton most likely being its preferred choice. There's a tiny chance Duke could get a #1 seed, but I think that window is closing. They will certainly get notice for beating a squad that had knocked off a couple of top 25 teams the past couple of days, and beating them with authority down the stretch. This was an especially gratifying win because the Heels were playing their best ball coming into this game, played well throughout most of this game, but they simply couldn't keep up with Duke late in the game. Duke got the best shots from UNC and Georgia Tech and had to be at their best to earn those victories, which is exactly where the team wanted to be at this time of year.

The first eight minutes of the game pitted UNC's Chay Shegog and Jessica Breland against Duke. That inside-outside duo accounted for 12 of UNC's first 14 points, with Shegog hitting short turnaround jumpers and Breland hitting longer shots. There were 9 ties and 5 lead changes in the first half, with most of them coming during this time span. Allison Vernerey was able to score on a drive and finish on a high-low pass from Krystal Thomas. Shay Selby hit a 3 and set up KT for a score. Karima Christmas hit a three, always a good augur of how she will play. Jasmine Thomas then showed that she meant business and was willing to match Breland shot for shot when she sank 2 free throws, drilled a 17' pull-up jumper and then drained a three. That score put Duke up 19-16 with 11:34 left in the half.

Duke built up a 6 point lead with foul shots from Haley Peters and a stickback by Christmas. Christmas then missed 2 free throws that could have pushed the lead up a bit more, allowing the Heels to roll off 6 straight points to tie it up. Jasmine halted the slide with a 15' jumper, but the Heels took a 29-26 lead after consecutive Duke turnovers. After 2 Christmas foul shots, Chelsea Gray had a key hidden play -- hidden plays are those that may not seem like a big deal at the time, but take on greater significance later in the game. Breland missed and Gray not only grabbed the rebound, she tore down the floor and found Vernerey in transition. That gave Duke the lead back along with momentum, something they needed going into halftime. That basket forced a UNC timeout, but they immediately turned the ball over. Gray seized on this and was fouled by Breland (her second), hitting both foul shots to make it 32-29 with 1:31 left in the half. UNC's Laura Broomfield had a three point play, but J.Thomas hit a three to break a 32-all tie. Christmas found Vernerey inside for a score and Alli blocked a layup attempt by UNC's Cetera DeGraffenreid. The Heels shot 50% and outrebounded the Devils, but Duke was +4 on turnovers, kept the Heels away from the offensive boards and off the foul line. Duke was also 4-9 from three while the Heels didn't sink a single trey.

After the break, Duke held the lead for the first nine minutes of the second half. Jasmine stroked a shot to push Duke's lead to 7 right away, but the Heels countered with 6 straight points. The two teams then traded scores for a bit, the Heels never getting any closer than 2 points. Gray was big here as she found Vernerey inside for a score, hit a jumper on a pass from Alli, sank 2 foul shots and hit Peters for a jumper. The problem was that Duke was starting to turn the ball over with no pressure whatsoever--balls thrown to no one in particular as communications broke down a bit. The Heels started to take advantage of Duke's miscues and turned a 49-45 deficit into a 51-49 lead with 11:14 left. Richa Jackson came into the game and promptly hit a tie-breaking jumper. After a missed three by UNC, Jaz drove (she later noted she had been settling for jumpers and wanted to drive) and managed to convert an astounding leaner with her left hand fully extended away from her body and her torso contorted in an odd angle.

The Heels took back the lead thanks to some free throws, making it 54-53 with 9:18 remaining. Some runs feel like real scoring runs, with lots of turnovers and fast breaks. Some runs, however, are simply a matter of a team executing at both ends and accruing points. There's much less drama and excitement, but there's certainly plenty of reward. This was the case for the Duke run that will now become part of ACC tournament history lore. It started with Peters finding K.Thomas (who wasn't much of a scoring target in this game) for a basket. Chloe Wells, who had entered the game a bit earlier and made a couple of mistakes, seized the moment by driving, dishing and nailing KT with a perfect pass for another score. That came after UNC's Tierra Ruffin-Pratt missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Wells then picked off a Breland pass after a Peters turnover. She drove in, found herself unguarded and smoothly sank a short jumper to give Duke a 59-54 lead. Duke got the ball back but Jasmine missed a shot that DeGraffenreid grabbed. The speedy Heel seemed off to the races, but Jasmine got back in time to block her shot. Duke was patient and ran some clock, and KT found Peters squared up for a three that she drilled. It was now 62-54 with 5:38 remaining and one could see UNC's knees start to wobble. Lucas missed a tough three and Christmas tore down the floor in transition to give Duke a 10 point lead. The Heels kept turning the ball over, and Krystal found Peters inside for a layup that spun around the rim a bit before dropping. Christmas blocked Breland and Jasmine was eventually fouled, hitting both shots. Duke had run off 15 straight points, but Breland got inside to make it 68-56 with 3:07 to go. Stranger things have happened, so Duke needed a big play to truly knock out the reeling Heels.

That haymaker came in the form of a rare "five-point play". Jasmine sank a three on an inbounds pass from Gray at the same time Haley was fouled setting a screen. Since it was UNC's 7th team foul, Haley got to shoot free throws and sank both ends of the one-and-one. It was 73-56 Duke with 2:35 left, and it was all over but for the balloons dropping from the ceiling. The Heels got within 15 points a couple of times, but it was far too little, too late for them. The Heels didn't get much from their bench in this game, as their reserves were outscored by Duke's reserves, 28-12. Breland kept her team in the game with her 27 points, but she played mediocre defense while Shegog was worse (and only had 2 rebounds). Waltiea Rolle, a player who tortured Duke in their first matchup, only played six minutes.

Duke wound up outrebounding the Heels by 11, including a 24-11 second half tally. The Devils had an 11-3 edge in second-chance points and a 19-15 advantage in points off turnovers. Duke had four players in double figures, with the frosh combining for 24 points. Jasmine was of course the MVP, with Rima joining her on the first team for the second straight season. Chelsea Gray made the second-team, and I voted for Vernerey as well. Attendance was down at the tournament this year but there was still a solid crowd of 9890 for the final despite a pretty heavy downpour. Duke will now wait 8 days to learn their tournament seeding and region, as the players will now go off on a well-earned spring break. The Devils won their second championship of the season and they're wanting more.

DWHoops thanks Ron Stubbs for his constant support, including special support for our ACC Tournament coverage.



Photos: #1 Duke Blows Away #6 UNC, 81-66
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ACC Champs! #1 Duke Blows Away #6 UNC, 81-66
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