GREENSBORO, N.C. – The second-seeded Duke Blue Devils topped the sixth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels 66-61 in the second semi-final matchup of the 2014 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament played at Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday.
Meeting again for the second time in a week, following last Sunday’s game when the Tar Heels completed the season sweep of the Blue Devils, a berth into the tournament championship game was on the line.
Having split their 12 previous meetings in tournament play, the 13th matchup provided the drama that the crowd of 8,169 in attendance was looking for.
Tricia Liston led all Duke scorers with 17 points as part of a 5 for 10 shooting performance while the rest of Duke’s starters – Elizabeth Williams (12 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks), Richa Jackson (11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists), Ka’lia Johnson (9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), and Haley Peters (7 points, 8 rebounds) – supported the team’s offensive effort throughout the game.
The Blue Devils (27-5, 12-4) once again received valuable bench support from Oderah Chidom (6 points, 3 rebounds) and Amber Henson (3 points, 3 rebounds) to counter North Carolina’s efforts to win a third consecutive game against their Tobacco Road rival.
“That was a great basketball game, just a terrific, terrific effort,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“I’m really proud of my team’s fight and particularly just the execution down the stretch and the timing score. North Carolina is a very, very good team.”
The Blue Devils posted a quick 8-0 lead during the first two minutes of play while the Tar Heels (24-9, 10-6) worked to find their shooting rhythm.
Led by Diamond DeShields’ game high 25 points to go along with six rebounds, North Carolina also relied on Allisha Gray (14 points, 7 rebounds) and Stephanie Mavunga (13 points, 9 rebounds) to stay close to the Blue Devils throughout the game.
Duke maintained its early lead until Mavunga eventually tied the game at 14-all with just over 10 minutes to play – the first of five occasions when both teams would be deadlocked on the scoreboard.
The Blue Devils quickly rebuilt their lead to six points, 24-18, mainly due to their efforts in outrebounding the Tar Heels.
DeShields and Mavunga then went to work and put the Tar Heels in a position to tie the game again.
With 23 seconds remaining, Liston scored one of two free throws to put Duke up by three, but the Tar Heels quickly used their next possession to tie the score.
Mavunga rebounded a missed DeShields field goal and subsequently scored the accompanying free throw after being fouled on the play to tie the score 31-31 by halftime.
Gray gave UNC its first lead of game just nine seconds into the second half with a three-pointer from the right corner.
Duke began to experience a lapse in its offensive success rate from the field and the Tar Heels took advantage of the situation by building on its lead powered by DeShields’ hot hand.
The North Carolina All-ACC rookie guard dropped back-to-back three-pointers and pushed the margin of separation from the Blue Devils to seven points, causing McCallie to call a timeout and settle her team down.
While Liston converted on only two shots during the second half, they were both significant three-pointers that kept Duke close at different times – 12 minutes apart.
As Duke worked to manage North Carolina’s scoring surge early in the half, Liston scored from beyond the arc to cut the Tar Heels lead to 43-42 at the 14:17 mark.
As the half wore on, both teams began to trade made and missed shots, turnovers and fouls that kept the score to no more than a single-digit differential.
After a Jackson layup reduced it to a three point-game in the Tar Heels’ favor, DeShields followed it up with a three-pointer.
However, she was too exuberant in her celebration of it towards Duke’s Haley Peters, and was assessed a technical foul as a result.
Liston scored both free throws to bring score back down to a four point deficit, 52-48, with 8:08 remaining.
Duke stayed committed to the cause and pulled down rebounds and scored in the paint while inching closer to tying the game.
”We made some mistakes down in the end we’d like to be able to replay, but you don’t get to do that, so we’ll learn from that and we’ll drive on,” North Carolina associate head coach Andrew Calder said.
“I thought overall in the game we gave good effort. I do not like the fact that they out rebounded us, and I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Liston dropped her second three-pointer of the half with 2:02 to play and narrowed the Tar Heels’ lead to 59-58.
Xylina McDaniel (5 points, 5 rebounds) then converted on a free throw which was matched by a Williams putback on the following Duke possession that tied the game at 60 apiece with 1:18 remaining.
On North Carolina’s next trip down the floor, Mavunga’s layup attempt was blocked by Williams and while Johnson played for the loose ball, was fouled by Mavunga.
The infraction was the Tar Heels forwards’ fifth of the game and removed her from the floor with 44.1 seconds to play.
Johnson’s two free throws gave Duke a 62-60 lead and still left North Carolina in a position to tie and/or win the game.
N’Dea Bryant got her chance to do so when she was fouled by Williams, who tallied her fifth foul and left the game with 34 seconds remaining.
However, Bryant made her first, but missed her second shot.
Chidom rebounded the missed shot, was fouled on the play and subsequently made both free throws to make it a three-point game.
With seconds ticking off the clock, DeShields stepped into a shot behind the three-point line that had a chance, almost making it through, but rolled around the rim and out.
Chidom rebounded that miss as well, was fouled again, and completed the game’s scoring with two more successful free throws to give the Blue Devils the victory and chance to defend their title against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday at 7 p.m.