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Saturday, February 15, 2014

All work: UNC men's basketball outlasts Pittsburgh

Posted by on Sat, Feb 15, 2014 at 9:54 PM

DEAN E. SMITH CENTER/ CHAPEL HILL—Sportsfans, I hope you made a whole day and evening of it and, after you watched North Carolina hold off Pittsburgh for their sixth straight win, found a place to settle in at dinner time to watch Duke escape Maryland by little more than the width of the rim and Syracuse somehow edge North Carolina State almost in spite of themselves. This was one of the more scintillating days of local basketball you're likely to see, and UNC's hard-won mid-afternoon victory was just the soup appetizer in a three-course hoop prix fixe that ended nuts.

In other words, the game in Chapel Hill is the easy part of today's Triangle basketball report.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tar Heels brave the snow, demolish struggling Pitt

Posted by on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 8:55 PM

Allisha Gray gestures to a teammate while Xylina McDaniel (at rear) does the same.
  • Courtesy UNC Athletic Communications/Jeffrey A. Camarati
  • Allisha Gray gestures to a teammate while Xylina McDaniel (at rear) does the same.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL Yes, it is possible to play college basketball in Chapel Hill this week.

UNC’s 17th-ranked women’s team (18-6, 6-4 ACC), fresh off its shocking upset at No. 3 Duke on Monday night, will take on new ACC member Pittsburgh in only the schools’ second meeting ever.

Pitt is undergoing some growing pains, currently 10-14 and 2-8 in its first season under Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Suzie McConnell-Serio. But the Panthers’ plane landed at RDU at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday and they’re ready to go.

Tonight is UNC’s “Play4Kay” breast-cancer awareness night, and despite the snow there are about as many fans in the building as for most games when the Tar Heels’ don’t play a marquee opponent. A lot of them are in pink.

Andrew Calder continues to run the team on the sidelines as UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell undergoes treatment for leukemia.

Tonight the Tar Heels say their goodbyes early, rolling to an 86-50 victory.

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    UNC frosh Gray, DeShields combine for 40.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Goodwin-Coleman scores 1000th as Wolfpack earns sweep of Deacons

Posted by on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 10:43 PM

REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State can reach a milestone the experts thought might not happen this season, and if it happens it will come way early.

State’s Krystal Barrett drives against Wake’s Jill Brunori.
  • Photo courtesy NCSU Athletics/Greg Mintel
  • State’s Krystal Barrett drives against Wake’s Jill Brunori.

First-year Wolfpack coach Wes Moore has exceeded all expectations in his first season at the helm, as State (19-3, 6-2 ACC) is ranked No. 14 in the country heading into tonight’s contest with ancient rival Wake Forest (12-10, 3-6). State, which had been picked 10th in the conference, has its highest ranking since the 2001 season.

The Deacons are playing well with three wins in their last five games, including a 24-point romp over No. 23 Florida State on Sunday. The Wolfpack won the first meeting 62-54 on Jan. 12 in Winston-Salem. Wake has freshman guard Mykia Jones, who played on the state 4A champions for Millbrook last season.

It’s a close game almost from start to finish, with the Wolfpack holding on for a 74-67 victory.

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    Wolfpack has its first 20-win season in four years.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Where you guys going?": UNC men's basketball beats Maryland

Posted by on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 6:00 AM

DEAN E. SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL—I spent some time yesterday morning reading about Len Bias, the most (in)famous player in the history of Maryland basketball. I was thinking about Lefty Driesell, and Buck Williams, and Albert King, and Walt "The Wizard" Williams, and if you don't know who those people are you're helping to prove a point, massing here and illustrated thus:

After UNC beat Maryland, 75-63, in one of the more boring games I've attended in quite some time (over early, in retrospect, after the Tar Heels raced out to an early 19-3 lead and then milked it for 35 minutes), Carolina head coach Roy Williams gave his five minutes to the media, looking quite ready to get out of there as quickly as possible, i.e. he was folding up and pocketing his stat sheet even as he was giving his final answer to a question, which if I recall was about his latest dizzy spell. Jokes were made about his spins, Roy was in fine fettle—why wouldn't he be, after his left-for-dead team won its fourth straight game?—and just seconds after he departed, in came Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon.

Turgeon happens to be one of Williams' former assistants at Kansas, and Maryland was playing its last game in Chapel Hill as a (charter!) member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. So there was plenty to ask him about beyond the game itself.

But college sports, big-time as they have grown, are really still very provincial, to the point of something close to myopia. As Turgeon came to the podium, nearly the entire press contingent stampeded out of the media room to go into the UNC clubhouse and interview the Tar Heels' players. Turgeon quipped, "Where you guys going?"

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    It's remarkable not that Maryland is leaving, but that the ACC retained seven of its eight bedrock schools as long as it did.

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The Nate James Effect: Duke grinds out 83-63 win over Wake Forest

Posted by on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 2:39 AM

  • Photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet
  • Nate James explains.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—With fewer than 10 minutes left in the first half, the 11th-ranked Duke’s men’s basketball team was losing, 25-22, to an unranked Wake Forest team missing their best player to injury, when Nate James, the Blue Devils’ 36 year-old 6-foot-6-inch 200-pound assistant coach, squatted in front of Jabari Parker, the 18-year-old freshman sensation, who had been benched after a recent foul. At the time, Parker had two points, one rebound, and one turnover, and had been scored liberally upon inside first by Devin Thomas and then Tyler Cavanaugh.

Parker nodded vaguely as James spoke, his eyes intent on the foul line at the other end of the court, where his teammate, Rasheed Sulaimon, was taking free throws, part of the 19 points, five assists, two steals and season-high 37 minutes earned by the sophomore, often from the point guard spot. Then James placed his fists on Parker’s knees and began to pound, first gently and then less so, until Parker finally met his eyes.

Forty seconds later, Parker was back in the game, Duke went on a 22-8 run to end the half, and the game was effectively over. Parker would finish with 21 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and a monstrous dunk. So what did Nate James say?

“Just compete,” recalled Parker. “Be there defensively. I was kind of nonchalant. I wasn’t really expecting their bigs to attack.”

As a player, Nate James always expected big people to attack. For aficionados of Duke basketball, James represented two attributes above all others: toughness and selflessness. He was a team captain twice—in 2000 and 2001. On a team of champions, Nate James did the dirty work: fighting for rebounds, diving for balls, guarding the most physical opponents and making sure no one punched Shane Battier in the face. After starting 29 straight games his senior year, he moved seamlessly to a bench role at coach Mike Krzyzewski’s request for the season finale against North Carolina, playing nine postseason games as a reserve on Duke’s way to the championship. Whatever it took to win, James did.

Now, years later, here was James stepping forward as the enforcer on the sidelines, getting in his players’ faces.

This was a classic trap game, played in the shadow of what Krzyzewski called the “emotional hangover” of an overtime loss at Syracuse on Saturday, where the Blue Devils found themselves one “controversial play” (Krzyzewski again) away from overcoming foul trouble, near perfect play by the Orangemen and a frenzied record-setting crowd of over 35,000 to beat Jim Boeheim’s undefeated team. “We’re a tired baskeball team,” Coach K explained.

Tired, and also a continuing work in progress, as Krzyzewski continues to play with his lineup, staring Sulaimon at point guard in the place of Quinn Cook, who found himself in his own conversation with Nate James, an animated conversation at the halftime shoot-around.

“I’ve been in a little slump,” said Cook, who played a season-low 18 minutes and scored 7 points. Cook, like James, grew up playing in the Washington, D.C. area, a basketball circuit where toughness is valued highly. Arms at his side, as if afraid what he might do with them, the muscular James jawed hard at Cook before slapping him on the back forcefully. Cook later shot 2-4 in the second half, both three pointers, and added an assist with no more turnovers, but Duke didn't need his scoring tonight, as the fun-loving and sweet-shooting Andre Dawkins continued his happy stretch of season, notching 17 points in 19 minutes, including four three-pointers and a growing collection of ball- and shot-fakes that defenders seem increasingly helpless against. 

After last week’s win at Pittsburgh and loss at Syracuse, Duke found itself jump six places in the polls, an unusual boost for an 18-5 team splitting games against conference foes. The voters must see something in this team, which combines serious offensive firepower with enough defense to come out ahead. Now that they’ve won a Nate James game—the kind with D.C. natives Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston diving on the floor for loose balls while leading by 20 points—they may look even more dangerous, with a potential for old school toughness that some recent Duke teams have lacked.

Box score here.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Notre Dame rips Duke in No. 2 vs. No. 3 battle

Posted by on Sun, Feb 2, 2014 at 6:21 PM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Super Sunday starts a little early for Triangle women’s basketball with a much-anticipated rematch.

Tricia Liston drives to the hoop.
New ACC member Notre Dame, unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in the country, visits No. 3 Duke today, and the Blue Devils have revenge on their minds.

The last meeting came in last season’s regional final in Norfolk, with the Irish winning 87-76 to end the Blue Devils’ season in the NCAA Elite Eight for the fourth year in a row.

Notre Dame’s superstar from last season, point guard Skylar Diggins, is now in the WNBA. Duke is playing short in the backcourt, with Chloe Wells missing her fifth straight game with a bruised shin.

Today it doesn’t go well at all for the Blue Devils, as the Irish lead from wire-to-wire and win 88-67. Notre Dame wins its third straight road game against a Top 10 team for the first time in school history. And Duke’s 42-game home-court conference win streak is over.

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    Irish lead from wire to wire in first ACC visit to Cameron.

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