Guard Alexis Jones scored a career-high 22 points and finished with a near-perfect 11-of-12 performance from the free throw line to lead the Blue Devils over the Tar Heels for the second consecutive time this season.
“I am just really proud of our team, particularly the fight in the second half,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“It was a very physical game on both sides. In the first half we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be, and we weren’t as attacking as we needed to be. We weren’t, to me, dictating what you’d like to do in a physical game. But second half I felt the energy was high - Lex did an incredible job managing when she could go and when she couldn’t go - getting to the line and creating there.
The numbers that count
Typical of a Duke-North Carolina game, one contested by two defensively-dominant teams, the first five minutes of play included many missed shots, rebounds, turnovers and steals at both ends of the court.
As play settled, the Blue Devils got into a rhythm with Jones, Elizabeth Williams (13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Haley Peters (10 points, 7 rebounds) providing scoring support while Krista Gross (10 points, 12 rebounds) and Waltiea Rolle (9 points, 6 rebounds) did the same for the Tar Heels.
Both teams struggled from the field throughout the game, but it was Duke who finished with the better shooting performance to win the game, even with the Tar Heels attempting 40 percent more shots.
“I look at the stat sheet and I see all the categories where we beat them or are ahead of them,” North Carolina head coach Sylvia Hatchell said as she ran down the list of different categories in which her team led the game in.
“All these things we challenged the players on, we accomplished. Except if we could make some foul shots, that would help there, and for the fact that we took 21 more shots than they did.”
Heels wait for the run
Throughout the season, the Tar Heels have become accustomed to waiting for the right opportunity to go on a scoring run and climb back into games.
They did exactly that while trailing the Blue Devils by twelve points, 22-10, with just over six minutes to play in the opening half.
North Carolina guards Brittany Rountree (6 points, 3 rebounds) and Latifah Coleman (4 points, 2 rebounds) made their contributions during the latter part of the half, and fueled a 9-0 run which Gross and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (16 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists) took over in leading.
Ruffin-Pratt’s jumper with 16 seconds to play gave the Tar Heels a 27-26 lead at halftime.
Devils battle back
Coming out for the second half, Jones was relentless in finding opportunities to go to the basket.
“I was really reading that in the game, and really listening to Coach P and her calls, and what she wanted to be called at the time,” Jones said.
“I think that we were very aggressive on trying to keep them in front and when they threw up shots, we were just turning around and trying to box out as best as we can and get it and go. So we were really patient on defense and really went after them.”
Jones and Williams helped their team reestablish the lead after keeping pace with the Tar Heels early in the second half.
Knowing how well the Tar Heels could shoot and rebound, particularly in transition, Duke made extra efforts to be a presence on every shot attempt in the defensive end, and to draw fouls when going to the hoop.
“They are good players, athletic and they can block shots, so I just tried to get my body into them, and get them into foul trouble,” Williams said.
Finishing the job
Not surprisingly, Jones single handedly tied the score and gave Duke the lead for the remainder of the game while shooting free throws at the 13:37 mark.
From there, Duke rebuilt its lead up to 14 points, leading 48-34, with 9:41 to play.
As hard as Rolle and Gross fought to reduce North Carolina’s deficit, the Tar Heels weren’t able to make another comeback.
Rolle fouled out with 5:34 to play, and minimized the Tar Heels ability to penetrate in the paint for the remainder of the game.
Though Ruffin-Pratt and Rountree put up numerous perimeter jump shots and three-point attempts, their inability to score secured the victory for Duke.
“I thought we were more focused and physical at that time,” McCallie said.
“I think it was a little bit of everybody playing in-sync defensively, contesting well. I don’t think there were a lot of open shots in the second half. There might have been one or two, but not very many. That’s a big key to really be able to disrupt teams.”
Looking at the stats sheet as Hatchell had done during her session with the media, McCallie concluded honestly regarding her team’s shooting performance.
“We didn’t shoot great, 38 percent and they’re at 30 percent,” she said.
“If it’s going to be that kind of game, which it was, you want to be on the 38 percent side.”