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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Season ends on a downer but had its ups; 2011-12 could be even better

Posted by on Wed, Mar 30, 2011 at 2:57 PM

The Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the women’s basketball season ended with a dull thud on Tuesday night with Duke’s 75-40 loss to Connecticut.

Sylvia Hatchell and Joanne P. McCallie could have even better teams next season.
And it’s going to be very unfortunate if that night turns out to be the way the 2010-11 Blue Devils are remembered.

The two losses to two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut, which is still an odds-on favorite to win the title again in Maya Moore’s senior season, were simply out of context. Maybe the “UConn” on the front of the Huskies’ jerseys was just too much.

But otherwise it was a fabulous season for Joanne P. McCallie’s No. 6 Blue Devils, who finished up 32-4 as repeat ACC champions and were never really the victims of an upset loss.

It was also a very solid comeback season at No. 14 UNC, which ended up 28-9 and made the Sweet 16, losing a tough one across the country to Final Four-bound Stanford. The Tar Heels beat Duke in Chapel Hill and played in the ACC title game. Sylvia Hatchell’s club didn’t lose to a single bad team all year, and the fact the losses were too many to count on hand are a testament to the strength of the ACC.

And although the final result was disappointing there weren’t many harder working teams in the country than N.C. State (14-17), which got its signature win over the Tar Heels and lost to Duke by a point. The die may have been cast when senior post Tia Bell, who had missed the important part of the previous season with a knee injury, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. And as second-year coach Kellie Harper was quick to point out, four plays in the closing seconds of games kept the Wolfpack out of the post-season.

The good news is that the future is bright all around.

Duke does lose a great senior class in go-to leader Jasmine Thomas, explosive forward Karima Christmas and imposing center Krystal Thomas. But the five-player freshman class, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation, didn’t disappoint and McCallie returns eight outstanding players who got plenty of playing time. Add in the nation’s top recruiting class for next year including 6-3 superstar Elizabeth Williams, and the 2011-12 Blue Devils will be deep at every position and primed for a run at the NCAA title.

The Tar Heels will also have heavy graduation losses as scoring machine Italee Lucas, polished floor general Cetera DeGraffenreid and courageous post Jessica Breland — who was watching from the sidelines last season as she fought the effects of Hodgkin’s lymphoma — will be gone. But Hatchell played 10 players — eleven before freshman guard Shannon Smith was injured and given a medical redshirt. And the recruiting class includes two NCHSAA state champions from this season, Megan Buckland from Kernersville McGuinness and Danielle Butts from Winterville South Central. UNC could have as good a record as this season and make an NCAA Tournament run.

The Wolfpack lost a couple of key players in scrappy fifth-year guard Amber White and sweet-shooting Brittany Strachan. State was of course not as deep as its Triangle rivals, but the good news is that its three best players heading into next season will be one senior in Bonae Holston, one junior in Marissa Kastanek and one sophomore in Kody Burke. State should be back in post-season play in 2011-12.

I had some official contact from the WNBA a few days ago asking if I’d like to speak to some area players expected to be chosen in the draft. Apparently likely to be among the 36 selections over three rounds are Breland, Christmas, DeGraffenreid, Lucas, Jasmine Thomas and Krystal Thomas. I would agree that all will go, with at least Jasmine Thomas and Lucas being snapped up in the first round.

Too bad we don’t have our own WNBA team at the RBC Center, huh?

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