Tonight the No. 5 Blue Devils (17-2) host No. 3 Connecticut (19-2), which has established itself as the nation’s premier women’s program ever since coach Geno Auriemma got it up to speed.
Duke has been consistently in or near the Top 10 during Joanne P. McCallie’s tenure, but she hasn’t yet taken the Blue Devils to a Final Four.
This game could have a big effect on that, as a Blue Devil victory would put them on the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional. And the Blue Devils will get help from the largest home crowd of the season as Cameron is almost sold out.
But recent history is not on Duke’s side, as UConn has won four straight in the series and the last three by at least 33 points including a couple of very tough nights for the Blue Devils last season.
Duke has won 34 straight home games, with the last loss that 81-48 shellacking by the Huskies here two years ago.
The good news for Duke is that this time the Blue Devils aren’t humiliated. But the bad news is their shooting percentage, an icy 24.6, in a 61-45 loss before a noisy 8,033.
Before you click away elsewhere, take a quick look at the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster. And, as you read it, refresh the page a few times. Chances are fair that it might change before your eyes.
The trade deadline approacheth.
Another name might vanish though. I’m actually hurrying to write this and get it posted before something happens. General manager Jim Rutherford, between presumed gulps of an energy drink, could be typing up his third press release of the day right now. In addition to the Gleason announcement, Riley Nash was recalled today from the Charlotte Checkers. Sure, not a big deal. It’s Nash’s second cup of coffee this season. And he’s probably just taking the spot that Zac Dalpe vacated when he was sent down a week ago.
But it could also foreshadow a roster forward’s departure, possibly Tuomo Ruutu, whose contract expires at the end of the season. Ruutu leads the Canes with 15 goals and has been playing his guts out for months. Any team with hopes of going deep in the playoffs would love to have his mix of grit and skill.
Unfortunately, the Canes are not one of those teams.
This past weekend’s National Hockey League All-Star break provides the last pause before the spring playoff rush. It’s a time for teams to take stock of where they are in the standings, to decide if their play thus far merits improving their rosters before the Feb. 27 trading deadline or if they should dump pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks and prospects. In short, it is when teams become either buyers or sellers.
The Tar Heels typically prefer a gentlemanly course against over-matched foes, and their uninspired performance in the second half should be viewed through that lens. Carolina’s offense moved briskly and dissected Tech’s defense repeatedly, frequently taking a high-percentage shot early in the possession.
UNC scorched from long-range, burying 10-for-16 on threes. The Heels shot 54 percent overall (60 percent in the first half) and notched 22 assists with only 10 turnovers.
Harrison Barnes looked sensational on a series of drives, post-ups and spotting up from distance. He finished with 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting. Tyler Zeller continues to piece together one of the finest stretches of his career, amassing 17 points (7-for-9 field goals) and throwing down impressive slams. Kendall Marshall's command of the offense once again dazzled, as he dished out 12 assists and committed only one turnover.
Everyone wondered whether the offense would enjoy a boost when Reggie Bullock stepped into the starting lineup for the injured Dexter Strickland, and Bullock’s play certainly stood out against the Yellow Jackets. He converted 3-for-6 on threes and led the team with two offensive rebounds.
On defense, Carolina bothered Tech with its great length as well as with aggressive traps and overall ball pressure. The Yellow Jackets rank among the poorer ACC clubs in terms of talent — as their 1-6 conference record suggests — and they shot only 38 percent in the first half.
The evening's highlight also occurred in the first half, when freshman guard Stilman White utilized a dribble move that caused his defender to fall down and then immediately banged home a three. For such an untested player, White has performed solidly thus far in his backup role since Strickland's injury.
UNC improved its record to 18-3, 5-1 in the ACC. The Heels are tied for first place with Duke and Florida State, which holds wins over both UNC and the Blue Devils. Click here to view the UNC/GT box score.
As I departed the RBC Center following N.C. State’s 61-60 loss to Virginia, ahead of the rest of the media corps still rapping out their copy inside the bowels of the arena, the most jarring yet poignant image of the evening was the sight of Johnson as he walked out at the same time. Johnson was barely recognizable, his eyes shrouded beneath a light grey hoodie, his lips pursed and not passing a word. Accompanied by a small group of friends and/or family, he climbed into the passenger seat of a waiting vehicle and rode off, surely contemplating not just the heart-wrenching defeat but his subpar performance: 0-6 from the field, 0-4 from the free throw line and a key possession late in the second half when he missed three straight shots, including two open layups.
Ten minutes after this encounter, Johnson tweeted this missive under his otherwise cheeky handle, @SupermanJohnson: “All the praise to you Lord. Lord I’m at rock bottom. Hear me Lord Im (sic) crying out for you! I try to be strong but I am Weak. Help me Lord."
He went on for a little over three minutes, praising St. John's and lamenting his own team, saying that "we did enough to win" but that it "almost makes me sick to say that." Then he said, "That's the story. You can ask your questions... Maybe some question will open up some little thing that I have not looked at, but believe me, I do this all the time."
Well, we did ask questions, of course, and the revealing thing was that Krzyzewski wound up holding forth for what may have been his longest postgame session of the season so far. There was in fact plenty to say, and some of Krzyzewski's bitterest comments—made palatable by the occasional acerbic quip—shed new light on Duke basketball in his three-decade tenure.
Well, before we get to that, perhaps it's worth choosing this moment to remind ourselves, in the words of Austin Rivers, "We did win. It's crazy, because the locker room setting is like we lost." Ah, yes: Duke beat St. John's this afternoon at Cameron, 83-76. The Blue Devils put together a superb first half on both offense and defense. They had a 16-point lead at the break—had they converted a couple of easy layups, it could have been 20—and it swelled to 22 just three minutes into the second half.
St. John's started five freshmen and was piloted by assistant coach Mike Dunlap (head coach Steve Lavin has been receiving treatment for prostate cancer). Nonetheless, the Red Storm made a game of it thanks to its two best players, national top-40 prospects Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison, who scored 33 of their team's 47 second-half points. St. John's narrowed the Duke lead to seven points with a 21-9 run; but the Blue Devils went to the free throw line 16 times over the game's final eight minutes, making 14 of the attempts, and salted away their 18th win against just three losses. Duke is tied for the lead in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and is one of the top 10 teams in the country.
So why the long faces?
Making the NCAA Tournament instead of the WNIT is predicated on the Pack’s success against the ACC’s middle class, and tonight’s game with Florida State (11-10, 3-4) is a straight-up battle for fifth place.
Kellie Harper’s club comes in at 13-7, 3-4 in conference play, and has won three of its last four games. But the Pack has been licking some wounds since a 60-50 loss to arch-rival UNC here on Sunday.
Florida State has won four straight in the series, but by a total of only 18 points.
Tonight FSU keeps its magic in the series alive, winning 67-64 on Leonor Rodriguez’ 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to stay above .500.
After all, Carolina embarrassed itself at Florida State a couple weeks ago, and the Wolfpack arrived in Chapel Hill the proud possessors of a 4-1 ACC record. Enthusiasm understandably has risen since Mark Gottfried arrived in Raleigh — and the ‘Pack will welcome a tremendous recruiting class into the program next year — but none of that could stave off a 74-55 beating versus the Heels.
UNC competed in spirited fashion from the opening tip, overpowering State’s smallish frontline to win the rebounding battle 48-26. Any hope the ‘Pack had of winning likely died when Richard Howell landed in foul trouble in the first half and ultimately fouled out in the second.
Tyler Zeller’s torrid stretch continues apace. The senior big man appears to have regained the form he attained during last season’s NCAA Tournament, and his 21-point, 17-rebound performance versus State spearheaded Carolina’s inside dominance. He scored quickly and efficiently, hitting 8-for-11 from the floor.
His frontcourt partner, John Henson, contributed nine points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, suffocating Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie (3-for-12 field goals) and helping limit the Pack to just 37 percent shooting from the floor.
Mike Potter (@MikePotterRDU) tells us that contrary to a certain 51-point loss, UNC Tar Heels women are back in their groove. However, the architects of that 51-point squeaker, the slavering, fang-filled Huskies of UConn, are mushing their way to Durham! For a game at (nearly) sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium, coming up Monday, Jan. 30. Put on your upset goggles for this nationally televised-on-ESPN2 tilt.
Wait, a sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium? Don't tell anyone, but nobody goes to Cameron Indoor Stadium anymore. It's too crowded. Adam Sobsey (@sobsey) said that, below.
And Rob Harrington (@Rob_Harrington) has a thought or two involving the director of the movie Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of
Dexter Disco. No, that's Whit Stillman. Anyway, what have we learned? What do we know?
Stilman White may have to play tonight. Wait, who's Stilman White?
The only story in Chapel Hill (give or take a jejune, trite act of vandalism —ed.) since the Virginia Tech game has been the point guard conundrum. After Dexter Strickland tore his ACL and was ruled out for the season, everyone has wondered who will back up Kendall Marshall at point guard. Because while Strickland started at shooting guard, the Heels carry enough depth on the wing to replace him—and some have clamored all season for Reggie Bullock to play a heavier role.
But at point guard, UNC's options are limited. Roy Williams said this week that he believes Marshall can play approximately 35 minutes per game, so the issue is what happens during that brief, but very fragile
time when he's not on the court. The only other true point guard on the roster is Stilman White, a lightly recruited freshman who simply may not have the physical ability to handle the ball against ACC-level
pressure or defend big-time athletes. He played poorly against the Hokies last week but has enjoyed better moments on other occasions—typically against an opponent's reserves—this season.
Williams also discussed the possibility of playing without a point guard during Marshall's rest minutes. Both Harrison Barnes and Justin Watts received a few reps this week, but clearly neither man is what
UNC wants in terms of a playmaker, ball-handler or primary defender. My guess is Williams hopes White can win those minutes but wants to create the appearance of several viable options, in order to suppress
pressure from enveloping his freshman and in case White simply isn't ready for such a crucial responsibility. —Rob Harrington
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC returns to the court tonight looking to extend a little hot streak, and for the first time in a while the No. 25 Tar Heels will be heavily favored.
UNC (14-5, 4-2) has won two straight road games coming into the contest, having beaten Virginia Tech before an emotional victory at N.C. State on Sunday.
And the Tar Heels keep the momentum going, rolling to a 77-46 victory.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke will carry a nine-game winning streak into its toughest conference home game of the season when Maryland visits today.
Maryland (18-1, 5-1) was the last ACC team to come into Cameron and win, that happening on Feb. 17, 2008 when the Terps won 76-69.
The fans seem to know the potential of the matchup, as 7,228 stroll through the gates.
They aren’t disappointed.
The Blue Devils play probably their best game of the season and the Terps are almost as good, Duke escaping with an 80-72 victory.