Good news is that all the local teams — No. 14 N.C. State, No. 10 Duke and No. 13 UNC — are still alive and kicking.
The bad news is that No. 2 newcomer Notre Dame with its 30-0 record is licking its chops to spoil the party.
No North Carolina team has been within 10 points of the Irish this season, which ended with a trio of victories over the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Wolfpack by a combined 60 points.
The Irish will take on State in the first semifinal, and unfortunately for Wes Moore’s club center Markeisha Gatling — the nation’s leading field-goal shooter who suffered a minor knee injury the day before in the win over Syracuse — won’t start and may not play. She should be fine for the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.
Freshman Jennifer Mathurin will start for the Wolfpack, and with Olympian Natalie Achonwa going for the Irish it’s one of the rare times two Canadians will start an ACC game.
Whatever happens in this one the Tar Heels and Blue Devils will square off in the nightcap. UNC, with Andrew Calder directing from the sidelines as head coach Sylvia Hatchell has leukemia treatments, has won twice by a combined 15 points. The 11-point win at Cameron was UNC’s best win of the season, unless shooing No. 7 Maryland out of the ACC 73-70 on Friday night topped it.
Duke has had a ridiculous run of injuries with its point guards, but with two weeks’ notice may have made one. Ka’lia Johnson was extremely solid Friday night in a 30-point annihilation of an NCAA-bound Georgia Tech team.
The Wolfpack can’t hang with the Irish. But in the second game — which is worthy of being one of those “Instant Classics” — Duke holds off UNC 66-61.
Notre Dame 83, N.C. State 48
Jewell Loyd’s 16 points lead four Notre Dame players in double figures.
With 6-5 center Markeisha Gatling, who leads the nation in field-goal percentage, sitting out with a minor knee injury, the Wolfpack was just no match for Irish.
Kayla McBride, Michaela Mabrey and Madison Cable each score 10 for Notre Dame, which leads 46-18 at halftime.
Miah Spencer leads State with 11 points, followed by Len’Nique Brown with eight.
Duke 66, UNC 61
Tricia Liston hits 17 points, leading three Duke players in double figures as the defending champion Blue Devils topped their archrivals.
Elizabeth Williams has 12 points before fouling out and Richa Jackson adds 11 for Duke.
Diamond DeShields’ 25 lead the Tar Heels who get 14 from Allisha Gray and 13 from Stephanie Mavunga. Mavunga also fouls out.
Duke clinches it at the free-throw line, with the Blue Devils’ last six points coming on a pair of free throws from Ka’lia Johnson and four from Oderah Chidom.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “It’s a very big challenge. Notre Dame hasn’t lost all year and they’ve rarely been challenged. They run a precision offense. It’s important for us to get back. It’s a great opportunity for us. They’re picked to beat us and they have been all year. A tournament situation is a lot of fun, and hopefully we’ll grow more as a team.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw: “Duke has a number of All-Americans on the roster, probably as many as anybody in the country. Tricia Liston has had an outstanding year and Elizabeth Williams is a really talented inside player. Haley Peters is a great ‘glue’ player for them and they’ve got All-Americans on the bench.”
UNC associate head coach Andrew Calder: “Congratulations to Duke. On this night, they were better than us. We made some mistakes down at the end that we’d like to be able to replay. We had a good effort, but they outrebounded us (44-37) and I thought that was the difference in the game.”
N.C. State coach Wes Moore: “It was a rough day and obviously a very humbling day. It’s hard right now to look at the big picture, but hopefully we can do that soon. We’ve just got to pick things up and maybe try to learn from some of the things that occurred today. 25 wins is a great accomplishment, and we’ll do our best not to let one bad day overshadow what they’ve accomplished over the last few months.”
Stars of the day
Duke vs. Notre Dame, Sunday, 7 p.m.