|Devils Pull Away From Tar Heel Iron Five|
|Azurá Takes Charge
|Azurá Stevens led all scorers with 26 points and added 14 rebounds as Duke pulled away from the Tar Heels for a 71-55 win. The Blue Devils have defeated North Carolina in each of their last four meetings.
DWHoops Photo by Orin Day
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM -- Duke bumped their ACC record over .500 with their third straight win as they beat UNC 71-55, in a game that was closer than the final score would indicate. Indeed, there were six lead changes in the first half as the Devils led by just 2 at 36-34, and the Heels crept as close as six points with under four minutes remaining. Time after time, the Devils would crash the boards and convert when put in a tough spot.
Setting the stage, the Tar Heels (12-10, 2-5 ACC) had just six scholarship players available after forward Xylina McDaniel's career ended with a knee injury. The team's "bench", Erika Johnson, is mostly out there to defend and rebound, so her team is always at a disadvantage on offense when she's out there. Duke (15-6, 4-3 ACC) was playing without Angela Salvadores, who is still nursing a sprained ankle. She wasn't ready to go for this game, but it's hoped that she might be back Thursday for the game at Pitt.
The Devils started with their jumbo lineup of Oderah Chidom, Amber Henson and Azura' Stevens. Duke's strategy was of course to pound the ball inside (see: every Duke game under coach McCallie), but they were trying to loosen up UNC's zone by stationing one of the bigs in the high post or on the wing in order to open up some room. It worked in that sense that some players got open perimeter looks, but it hurt Duke in the sense that they started to get jump-shot happy.
In the first quarter, Henson opened up the scoring by popping a jumper that a mobile Stevens dished to her. Rebecca Greenwell followed with a spot-up three. The Heels were eschewing the long ball in the early going, passing from the high post to get quality medium range looks from N'Dea Bryant and some points in the paint via the dribble.
Stevens kept Duke in the game with a fast break finish, a steal and layup at the top of the zone and a floater in the lane. That triggered a 9-0 run that saw Chidom score on a drive, Henson scoring and getting fouled on a stickback, and Greenwell pulling up for a jumper late in the half to make it 18-10. The Devils had just three turnovers in the quarter but got outrebounded 11-6.
UNC guard Jamie Cherry started to warm up in the third quarter, hitting a trio of treys to get her team closer. A three by Kyra Lambert and a Chidom seal-off made it 25-20 Duke, but the Heels went on a 7-0 run fueled by three Devil turnovers, taking their last lead, 27-25. Duke blasted back with an 9-0 run as Stevens got a stickback plus the foul and then went on the wing and got her feet set for a beautiful trey. A dish from Greenwell to Chidom inside was set up before the Heels could stop it.
Cherry got loose for another three and an off-balance jumper from Greenwell led to a UNC basket in the paint. After Chidom hit a bucket to put Duke up 34-32, the Heels tied it up. Stevens stuck back a miss by Greenwell, and Duke's defense held at the end of the half. Indeed, Stevens and Chidom both got great looks at the basket right before the buzzer but couldn't convert. The Heels were winning the rebounding battle 23-22, but both teams were keeping their turnovers under control. The Heels shot just 21% from three in the first half and gave up 13 second-chance points to Duke, and that's why they were behind.
I had the sense that UNC was outplaying the Devils, but the stats revealed that Duke simply had trouble finishing. Duke missed six of their fourteen layup attempts. The Devils were the aggressor to begin the second half as they started off on an 8-0 run. That included a jumper and foul shots by Lambert, a pull-up short jumper by Greenwell and a runner by Chidom. Duke was playing tough defense and starting to get more rebounds. More specifically, Henson was getting rebounds, as nine of her sixteen boards came in the third quarter!
Another three by Cherry cut the Duke lead to 44-37, but the Devils ran off five straight to start to take control of the proceedings. Stevens hit 2 foul shots and then scored after Henson grabbed an offensive board. Duke's last field goal of the half was a great finish in transition by Lambert. That said, Duke had a decent lead and couldn't build on it, as they would eventually allow the Heels back into the game.
The Devils would continue to hold the Heels at arm's length for the first five minutes of the final quarter, thanks to the usual heroics by Stevens. UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell was assessed a technical foul by bumping into an official as she came onto the court angrily contesting a foul. Greenwell made both, and Chidom followed a Heel basket with a layup.
The Devils had a chance to put them away once and for all, but they squandered back-to-back stops with back-to-back turnovers. Finally, UNC's Destinee Walker hit a three and then scored on a layup to suddenly cut the lead to 7. This came after Stevens came out and stayed out as the Devils once again had trouble defending and getting rebounds. Henson was out as well and UNC took advantage of this.
Cherry hit a foul shot to cut the lead to six with 3:38 to go. Stevens stuck back a miss by Lambert and then went off to the races after Greenwell got a steal. Incredibly, Stevens somehow missed the three in transition, but Greenwell was trailing her and put it back. The Heels got a couple of cracks from long range but missed both, and Lambert took the ball, zipped it up to Greenwell and watched Becca drain the kill shot in transition. That put Duke up 66-53, and it was free throws the rest of the way for the Devils.
This was a solid win for Duke, as they didn't quite have a catastrophic number of turnovers (just 19), and they held their opponent to 5-34 shooting from three. Granted, hoisting away against Duke's zone was UNC's game plan, and they got some open looks, but the Devils for the most part were active and smart in contesting those shots.
DWHoops Nosh Player of the Game: Azura' Stevens, Duke. Stevens was pretty much unstoppable when she crashed the offensive boards as she collected 26 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. She was a huge presence in both halves.
Five Fast Observations About Duke-North Carolina
Presented in memory of Jim Sabiston
- Empty Benches.In one of the weirder things I've ever seen, neither team's bench scored a single point. This wasn't so unusual for UNC, a team that usually plays just six players, one of whom comes in to defend and rebound. For Duke, the bench going 0-7 from the field was not on the menu, but they managed to survive this.
- Convert! This may well be the stat of the game: UNC had 22 offensive rebounds but scored just 7 points from them. The way this translated into game play was that the Heels would miss, get the ball back and then take a three and then miss that. As the game went on, it got harder and harder for them to get the good-looking mid-range shots that were available in the first half. For Duke, they scored 21 points on 14 offensive rebounds, including ten from Stevens alone on basic stickbacks.
- Built To Specs. Duke has played a number of teams this season who had a player slumping from three who wound up burning them repeatedly. The Heels had plenty of such shooters who might have been candidates for getting a confidence-destroying hot hand, but the Devils once again switched quicker on the perimeter and contested shots earlier and harder into each possession than in recent games. The Heels, despite their speed and talent, didn't the same qualities as other teams that have beaten Duke this year.
- Hang Around, Greenwell. I wouldn't say this was a great game for Becca, as she had some bad turnovers and questionable shots. That said, she hit some of the game's biggest shots down the stretch and a couple of key offensive rebounds that led to scores. While she might not always make the best decisions, she never stops working hard in an effort to correct mistakes.
- Crowded House. While a bit short of the announced 7200 attendees, Cameron was still loud and boisterous on a day where the Triangle got pelted by ice and snow. In particular, there were a lot of Duke students in attendance, and the team fed off their energy at key points.
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