The top-seeded Duke Blue Devils cruised to a 92-73 victory over the third-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels to win their eighth Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Women's Basketball Tournament title.
Freshman guard Alexis Jones (24 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals), sophomore center Elizabeth Williams (24 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals), and junior forward Haley Peters (17 points, 5 rebounds) led the Blue Devils in completing a sweep of ACC honors this season.
After clinching a fourth consecutive regular season title, Duke was too strong to be denied the opportunity of placing their hands on the conference tournament trophy – the team’s third in four years.
“I’m just really proud of this team and their fight and resilience,” Blue Devils head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“As we’ve come along here in our new season of getting to know each other, these three games were extremely valuable to our team to get better and to grow as a team.”
A better team
McCallie has consistently pointed out that without injured All-America point guard Chelsea Gray, her team has been forging a new identity and playing that way accordingly.
For the Blue Devils, who reached the 30-win mark for the 10th time in the last 13 years, it doesn’t seem like they’ve missed a beat, and may have become even better and stronger.
North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell seemed to think so.
“Duke’s a great team,” Hatchell said.
“I don’t know how much better they could have played than they did today. From what I can see, they’re probably a better team with Alexis Jones out there than they were with Chelsea Gray. They’re doing a lot of things with Alexis at point that they weren’t doing when Chelsea was in there.”
Tar Heels senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt who led her team in scoring against the Blue
Devils with 25 second-half points, concurred with her coach.
“Chelsea’s more of a pass-first point guard and Alexis is more of score-first point guard,” Ruffin-Pratt said.
“You have to focus on keeping Alexis in front of you, and pressure Chelsea a little bit more.”
Knowing what to expect
Not being strangers to one another, the third meeting between the two teams this season ended up with the same result – Duke coming out on top.
After starting slow and missing shots early, both teams started to put the ball in the basket and the Tar Heels held an early lead, 16-10, with 12:35 to play in the first half.
After Ruffin-Pratt got called for her second foul early in the game, Latifah Coleman, the Tar Heels’ top scorer in their semi-final win over Maryland, subbed in and did exceptional work in helping to get ahead of the Blue Devils at the time.
However, it was Williams who started an 11-0 run for the Blue Devils that resulted in them tying the score and overtaking the Tar Heels three minutes later on a three-point basket from Peters (17 points, 5 rebounds).
Just not enough
Try as they did, the Tar Heels got no closer than a point away with 7:27 remaining in the half, trailing 21-20, before Jones, the tournament MVP, and her teammates kicked their play into another gear and never looked back.
Trailing at halftime by 15 points, Hatchell tried to motivate her team once again to push and work harder to create turnovers and scoring opportunities as it did against Maryland.
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils matched each small run that they started and kept them at a distance of no less than 15 points for the rest of the game.
Shooting 30 percent from the field, North Carolina couldn’t keep up with Duke’s 57 percent performance, and Williams’ dominating presence in the paint where the Blue Devils more than doubled the Tar Heels’ scoring production, 48-22.
“We started out pretty good and then we started just missing shots, and they were able to get the ball inside,” Hatchell said.
“We get in these spells where we’re getting some pretty good shots, but we’re missing them and that’s what happened in the first half, and it caused us to get down. Basically the same thing happened in the Maryland game, but you know we went after them and pressed them, but a team that is skilled offensively as they are when you press them, makes their skills look even better.”
For the six-ranked Blue Devils, the win caps off a successful ACC schedule of play, finishing at 17-1 during the regular season and currently sitting 30-2 overall while preparing for the postseason, waiting to see in what spot and where they will begin play in the upcoming 2013 NCAA tournament.
Similarly, the 15th-ranked Tar Heels will bide their time reflecting back on a successful regular season in conference play finishing with a 14-4 record, standing with a 28-6 overall record, and also waiting for the NCAA selection show on Mar. 18 to let them know where their return to the NCAA tournament will begin.
Triangle-area fans have the opportunity to watch first and second round play in the upcoming NCAA tournament as Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium is a host site for games scheduled for Mar. 24th and 26th, with the strong possibility that one of these teams will begin their journey to the Final Four in Durham.