But looking for its first victory in four tries in the contest is UNC (6-6), which will also try to give Coach Larry Fedora his sixth winning season in six seasons as a head coach.
Cincinnati, which is the bowl’s “defending” champion since the Bearcats broke Duke’s heart with a 48-34 comeback win last season, represents the American Athletic Conference with a 9-3 record.
With UNC a 2½-point favorite, it’s cloudy and 53 degrees at kickoff.
Today nobody really expects what happens, as UNC takes control in the first quarter and never looks back in a 39-17 romp.
And sometimes it’s an opportunity to salvage one.
That’s the chance UNC (6-6) will have today when the Tar Heels take on Cincinnati (9-3) in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium (3:20 p.m., ESPN). Tar Heel mentor Larry Fedora has never had a losing season in his five previous campaigns as head coach.
A Triangle team is in the bowl for the third straight season, as Duke participated last year and N.C. State the year before.
The Bearcats, taking the spot of the American Athletic Conference, are in the rare position of being “defending champions” of a mid-level bowl, as they came back to beat Duke 48-34 last season. Quarterback Brendon Kay was the MVP after completing 17 of 25 passes for 332 yards and four TDs.
UNC, in the Belk Bowl for the third time in six seasons, is 0-3 all-time in the bowl. The ACC is 6-5 all-time.
And if you’re one of the few people who has been disappointed in that, here’s a holiday present just for you.
Here’s my First Annual (?) Indy Week All-Triangle team, made up of the best players who participated for the local Division I universities this season along with four special awards.
Chick-Fil-A Bowl-bound Duke (10-3) places 12 players on the list, followed by seven from Belk Bowl-bound UNC (6-6). Four players come from their fellow ACC member N.C. State (3-9) and two from Division I-FCS member N.C. Central (5-7).
The player of the year is Duke junior wide receiver Jamison Crowder, whose statistics are listed below in the grid.
The defensive player of the year is UNC senior Kareem Martin, whose statistics are listed below in the grid.
The rookie of the year is Duke defensive back DeVon Edwards. The 5-9, 185-pounder returned two interceptions for touchdowns, both in the closing seconds of the win over N.C. State. He also returned a kickoff for a TD against the Wolfpack, also both returning a kickoff for a TD and getting the game-clinching interception at UNC.
And the coach of the year is obviously Duke mentor David Cutcliffe, who took the Blue Devils to their first winning season since 1994 and the Coastal Division title.
For the first time all season, Coach Sylvia Hatchell will watch her team play in person.
Hatchell, who will watch from the lower media box about 20 feet above the court, has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for leukemia and isn’t supposed to get near big crowds.
In her absence the Tar Heels have been led by Hatchell’s 27-year veteran assistant Andrew Calder.
Today’s opponent is High Point, which actually leads the series 3-1 but hasn’t played the Tar Heels since the Carter Administration. The Panthers have a couple of local players on the squad in junior Ashante Richard from Northern Durham and freshman forward DeAnneshia Jackson from Harnett Central.
UNC is ranked No. 14 in the AP poll, and barring disaster is going to move up Monday following Wednesday’s 74-66 win over No. 10 South Carolina in Myrtle Beach.
The No. 2 Blue Devils had a very tough night less than 48 hours ago when they took an 83-61 drubbing in their long-anticipated meeting with No. 1 and defending national champion Connecticut.
Tonight’s opponent is Albany, a nice team from the America East Conference that suffered its first loss in nine games this season on Sunday at home against Quinnipiac.
The Great Danes’ coach is Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who was on Joanne P. McCallie’s staff when the current Duke mentor was at Michigan State.
Duke plays an awful first half but recovers easily, rolling to an 80-51 win.
DEAN E. SMITH CENTER/ CHAPEL HILL—The Tar Heels continued their topsy-turvitude last night, losing at home to unranked Texas, which won't be unranked anymore. The 10-1 Longhorns, kind of a discount Kentucky in many ways, just needed a win over a respected program to prove their worth. After the game, their head coach, Rick Barnes, whose infamy in Tar Heel lore has faded over time, pulled the old coaching trick of saying he pays no attention to the rankings but then recalling how he told one of his assistants that Texas was not only unranked; they probably didn't even have a single vote in the polls. (He was right; they didn't). That thing he supposedly wasn't paying attention to may in fact have been motivation for him, and perhaps transitively for his team.
Motivation. Drive. The knack and how to get it. Whatever you want to call it, it's a foundation of coaching young athletes. How do you get players to play hard, anyway? Texas is a very young team, as UNC-Chapel Hill is, even with senior Leslie McDonald reinstated last night. (McDonald immediately became Carolina's no. 2 three-point shooter this season by hitting four of them in 22 minutes. That's how anemic Carolina is as a three-point shooting team.) Still, the Longhorns took it right to Carolina early. They played harder, got nearly twice as many first-half rebounds, controlled loose balls and drove to the lane repeatedly, resulting in either easy baskets, fouls, or second-chance offensive rebounds. At halftime, they had scored a staggering 53 points, and led by 11.
Carolina tightened the rebounding margin, and the score, in the second half—somehow they had a chance to send the game into overtime on the final possession, despite their poor play—but their return to horrific free throw shooting doomed them. (Carolina couldn't overcome one of these failures against Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham; how could they have expected to overcome both?) At home against Belmont a month ago, they missed 26 of 48 free throws and lost by three points. At home against Texas last night, they missed 23 of 47 free throws and lost by three points again. Take away Marcus Paige, who is the only dependable player on the team in any facet of the game, and the Tar Heels shot a combined 37-82 (45 percent) from the free throw line in the two losses.
After the game, Roy Williams said: "You've got to be tough enough to step up and make the dadgum thing or go play soccer." No discussion of form, practice, hands, nothing like that. It's not about execution. Free-throw shooting is mental. You've got to be tough enough. Williams said that twice: tough enough.
Carolina Hurricanes, 14-13-7, third place in the Metropolitan Division
Last week (1-1-2):
12/9: @Vancouver 2, Carolina 0
12/10: @Edmonton 5, Carolina 4 (OT)
12/12: @Calgary 2, Carolina 1 (OT)
12/14: Carolina 3, @Phoenix 1
This week: 12/20 Washington; 12/21 @Tampa Bay; 12/23 Columbus
Wins are harder to come by out west. Western Conference teams, for a few seasons now, are bigger, faster and, well, better than their eastern foes. The interleague record is an embarrassment for teams in our time zone.
The Canucks shut out the Canes, 2-0, but Carolina deserved more than nothing for the work, missing a last-minute chance to tie matters with the empty net behind them when a shot destined for the Vancouver goal caromed instead off Eric Staal’s leg.
Matters in Edmonton could have been different, too, if the officials had chosen to call any of several blatant high-stick penalties against the Oilers. Tim Gleason’s mug was raked in a first period dominated by the home team, and then Jeff Skinner took sticks twice—including in the final minute of regulation after he’d just tied the game. But Edmonton was given a power play in overtime on an iffy boarding call on Justin Faulk and took the extra point to cap a fast-paced 5-4 win.
Skinner then had a chance to put Carolina ahead with a penalty shot with just five minutes left in regulation in Calgary, but goalie Karri Ramo closed the five-hole. In overtime, Calgary avoided the shootout by scoring with just four seconds on the clock.
Now let’s talk glass-half-empty.
Good teams find a way to get the Vancouver game to overtime, and figure out how to beat the Edmonton goalie a fifth time for the outright win. Leaving a point on the ice each night, the Canes aren’t a good team. They’re an almost-good team. Fortunately the rest of the Metropolitan Division has been as mediocre, so Carolina’s in play for one of the playoff seeds that goes to the top three finishers.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM The seniors on the Duke women’s basketball team get one more shot at this tonight — at least during a regular season.
The game they may have been dreaming about is here, since they’re undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation heading into their battle with No. 1 and defending NCAA champion Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic.
Connecticut has won six straight in the series and leads it 9-3. Duke’s best showing against UConn under seventh-year coach Joanne P. McCallie was a 61-45 loss here two seasons ago.
It’s the first time a No. 1 has visited a No. 2 since Connecticut’s 88-58 romp over UNC in 2009.
And once again it isn’t really close, as the Huskies are never challenged in the second half in rolling to an 83-61 win.