The fifth-ranked Duke Blue Devils maintained their dominance in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with an 84-63 win over the eleventh-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Sunday.
Duke (20-1, 10-0) reached the 20-win plateau for the sixteenth straight season while maintaining its dominance over North Carolina (20-3, 8-2), winning its fifth straight game over the Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils were led by guard Chloe Wells who scored a career-high 18 points followed by Tricia Liston (15 points), Haley Peters (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Elizabeth Williams, who finished with a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds).
Sweet and sour
Right from the opening tip, the Blue Devils controlled the pace of play for the first 10 minutes of the game.
Duke put together a commanding 28-6 run on one of the ACC’s better defensive teams in the Tar Heels, fueled in part by a three-point shooting streak from Wells who finished 6-of-7 from beyond the arc for the game.
“We just came out really focused, I think,” Williams said.
“We were making all the right decisions, making the right passes and getting good shots off of that. Defensively, we were getting consistent stops, and that led to our offense.”
North Carolina on the other hand, couldn’t find any shooting rhythm and look overwhelmed while shooting an abysmal 22 percent from the field during the first half.
“Duke’s a great team,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
“They’ve got lots of weapons. They were really shooting the ball well and everything and getting some open looks, but they’re a very good team. We didn’t play like I thought we would, and I thought we would give them a much better game.”
Both teams didn’t disappoint in playing a physical and gritty game for the boisterous crowd of 5,613 in attendance whose cheers and jeers rained down when each of 40 total personal fouls were whistled down by the all-male officiating crew on duty.
“It was quite physical, and I thought we learned a lot about that, Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“Also, we were physical too. It was just a physical game all the way around.”
A tale of two halves
Duke barely skipped a beat in outshooting, outrebounding and outscoring the Tar Heels with a 56 percent shooting performance in the half, while Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell couldn’t call enough timeouts to calm her team down as it ended up trailing the Blue Devils at halftime by 31 points, 50-19.
“I really don’t know what to say,” Hatchell said.
“The first half, we weren’t even hardly in the gym. I didn’t know what was going on with us, and I was about to use all of my timeouts up and everything like that. Now the second half, a little bit different.”
North Carolina used the halftime break to refocus and came out firing on all cylinders early in the second half while the Blue Devils showed their own signs of struggle, being outscored 17-6 during the first five minutes of play.
“Coach came in at halftime to give us a motivational speech to wake us up, and we got back to our game in the second half,” Rolle said.
The Tar Heels got additional offensive contributions from McDaniel and guard Brittany Rountree and continued to make small scoring runs, but Duke matched them and never allowed North Carolina to get any closer than 18 points for the rest of the game.
“I think we stayed focused on the game plan,” said Wells of the Blue Devils’ ability to not become overwhelmed by the Tar Heels second half surge that had them outscore Duke by ten points.
Coming off the bench
Duke’s bench players provided a substantial contribution (23 points) to its victory and enabled McCallie the opportunity to effectively make substitutions as needed.
“We have a lot of confidence in this team and every member of it,” said McCallie.
“We sub out of strategy. We just try to play to our strengths as much as possible.”
The Tar Heels on the other hand managed to get only seven total points from five different players who didn’t provide the support needed to keep pace with the Blue Devils.
Coaches' final words
When asked if everyone on hand had witnessed her team playing ‘Duke basketball’ against the Tar Heels, McCallie responded with an affirmative, yet tentative answer.
“Yeah, we’re gettin’ there,” she said smiling.
“There’s plenty of work to be done, but it’s exciting to play well, have fun and get better along the way.”
So, while the Blue Devils exited Carmichael Arena with smiles on their faces, Hatchell and her players were more solemn when trying to explain how and what they did to fall so short against the top team in the ACC.
“I thought we were ready,” Hatchell said.
“We had some really good practices - they knew what they needed to do. We’ve gotta’ learn from it and move on.”
With her 900th career win waiting to be claimed on another day, the Tar Heels coach jokingly suggested a different pregame routine for her team to follow in order to get them off to better starts in future games.
“I’m startin’ to think that maybe we go into the gym next door and play some pick-up for about 15 or 20 minutes and then come in to play the game. These kids love to compete, but at the start of the game we were not competing. I’ll look at everything and see what we can do better next time.”