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Monday, December 30, 2013

Action, comedy and drama in the Blue Devils’ first half of the season.

Posted by on Mon, Dec 30, 2013 at 11:50 AM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—It may have taken all of October and November for a couple of Duke’s veteran players to realize that this year’s basketball season was not a continuation of last year’s, but the Blue Devils may have finally arrived at a point where a good attitude a
Duke's Amile Jefferson lived on the boards against EMU, grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DUKEBLUEPLANET.COM
  • Photo courtesy of
  • Duke's Amile Jefferson lived on the boards against EMU, grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds.
nd great execution have met where a championship run is eminent.

“This isn’t last year,” said a foggy-eyed Coach Krzyzewski after his 10-2 Blue Devils fought through a staggering Eastern Michigan University zone defense and ran over the Eagles, 82-59. “It’s like a different play. Last year was a drama. This is an action movie or, I guess, some games are comedy.”

In some ways, however, Saturday afternoon’s game was a sequel. The last time these two teams faced each other was in the 1996 NCAA Tournament Regionals in Indianapolis, when EMU, led by point guards Brian Tolbert and Earl Boykins, took advantage of an unhealthy Duke roster, eliminating the Blue Devils, 75-60. Duke assistant coaches, Jeff Capel and Steve Wojciechowski, were both members of that 1995–96 Blue Devil squad, but yesterday’s matchup was less about revenge and high stakes, and more about getting this Duke team to, as Coach K put it, “adapt” to this season’s issues.

Sophomore forward Amile Jefferson (or “Millie” as his teammates call him) rightfully tackled Duke’s ongoing rebounding woes, grabbing a career-high 14 boards against a bigger and longer EMU frontcourt.

“It was just about getting position,” said Jefferson. “They play a really, really wide zone. So, on misses, you kinda get more of a three-step start to the rebound instead of rebounding from one base. I think that really helped—being able to move a lot in the paint.”

Duke outrebounded EMU 47-32, which included eight rebounds apiece from Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.

Now, back to Coach K’s movie genre analogy.

Below, I’ve highlighted some of the most action, drama and comedy-filled themes from the first half of Duke’s 2013–14 season. Of course, some of these scripts won’t be complete until conference play begins and adds some complexity to a few of these plots. But before that happens, the No. 9 Blue Devils have to face Elon University in Greensboro on New Year’s Eve for their last non-conference game of the regular season. Nevertheless, here are the joys, the buckets, the struggles and, yes, some vomit, from Duke’s first dozen games.


The Jabari Parker-Rodney Hood effect— Hood (17.6 ppg), in fact, may be a smarter and more patient player than freshman star Parker (22.2 ppg), while Parker may be the most lethal. Duke made an adjustment from its first several games by sticking Parker in and around the paint rather than let him stalk the wings with the ball. That gave Hood more space to roam, get open, and call for the ball. When Parker can’t dribble and wiggle his way to a down-low bucket, Hood’s left-handed jumper is the next dependable option behind a Dawkins 3-pointer. Parker’s residence further down low also frees up Hood to crash the offensive glass, especially against the kind of zone defenses that teams have been using against the Blue Devils lately. Together, the two are shooting 54 percent from the field, 44 percent from three-point land, and are currently the best scoring duo in college basketball.

Andre all day—Andre Dawkins scored a season-high 20 points against EMU on 6-of-10 shooting from behind the arc, sinking his last five in a row. In mid-November, he dropped five three-pointers against Florida Atlantic University. In Duke’s two losses, however, Dawkins either did not play (then-No. 5 Kansas) or played very limited minutes (then-No. 4 Arizona). The only other time the Blue Devils faced a ranked team (then-No. 22 Michigan), they won, and Dawkins shot a perfect 2-for-2 from the arc in only 10 minutes. So, if Duke wants to win big games, Dawkins needs play at least 15-20 minutes. By now, teams have figured out that his court presence and shooter’s touch is way too dangerous to ignore, so whether he puts up double-digits or just teases the defense, Dawkins will remain a threat for the rest of the season.


Rasheed Sulaimon’s self-rediscovery—With the addition of three highly recruited freshmen and redshirt sophomore Rodney Hood, this year’s Duke roster suddenly ballooned into a breeding ground for a battle for playing time. Unfortunately, last year’s standout wingman sophomore guard, Rasheed Sulaimon, lost himself in the makeover—sometimes playing through an illness, but mostly just not playing (or practicing) well or with the same kind of acuity that he exhibited as a freshman. All of that changed on Dec. 19, when Duke played UCLA on the big stage in Madison Square Garden. Sulaimon’s stats weren’t All-American worthy (8 points, 4 assists, 3 turnovers), but there was something remarkably improved about his confidence, body language and enthusiasm. Sulaimon was back. Then, against EMU, Sulaimon continued his comeback—this time scoring 13 points on 9-of-11 free-throw shooting, 2-of-3 from the field. He also dished off a few assists—one of which was a pretty, no-look pass to Marshall Plumlee for a two-handed jam.

Alex Murphy says goodbye to Duke—It wasn’t a surprise when Duke made the announcement that redshirt sophomore Alex Murphy would be transferring. He needed to. We all wanted him to. As talented a player as Murphy is, he was rotting at the end of Coach K’s bench. His in-game flubs were mostly a result of his limited game time experience at Duke, and with even more top recruits coming in for the 2014–15 season, there was no way his situation would improve. His new home with the Florida Gators has already been warmed up by older brother Erik Murphy—who now plays for the Chicago Bulls—and, under head coach Billy Donovan, the agile Murphy will fit in perfectly with this flowering Gators team.


Rodney Hood throws up—Sports vomit humor doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It happens in every sport, and can be caused by things like overexertion, illness, performance anxiety or a punch in the gut. Still, it’s funny to watch these fine-tuned athletes at their most vulnerable, stomach-emptying moment. Prior to tip-off against EMU, Rodney Hood left the court to throw up because of an illness. He didn’t make it back in time, so Coach K had to throw Andre Dawkins in the starting lineup at the last second. Three minutes later, Hood subbed in, missed a few shots then hammered down a put-back dunk off of a Parker miss. What wasn’t funny, however, was that Hood had to receive an IV during halftime. Then, in the first seven minutes of the second half, Hood drained a pair of threes as if nothing had happened. The comedy here is that EMU let a sick guy with barf on his breath hit some big shots.

The doomed “Free PJ” signs — The “#FreePJ” hashtag campaign officially ended on Dec. 20 when UNC announced that it would not seek reinstatement from the NCAA regarding the Tar Heel’s former junior guard, P.J. Hairston’s eligibility. It might have began when the Chapel Hill-based clothing brand, Thrill City, printed up a few T-shirts with “SCAM” written on the front in the style of the NCAA logo, and most notably worn by former Tar Heel, John Henson in an Instagram photo. But, the campaign reached its ugliest and most hilarious point during Dec. 16’s Duke–Gardner-Webb game when three Hairston sympathizers held up a couple of “Free PJ” signs from their seats inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Almost immediately, a Duke fan grabbed one of the signs, ripped it to shreds, then threw it over the balcony. The other sign was later confiscated by security. 
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    Duke rolls past EMU and Coach K likens Duke's first half of the season to an action movie.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tar Heels methodical and spectacular in romp over Cincinnati

Posted by on Sat, Dec 28, 2013 at 8:23 PM

T.J. Logan returns a kickoff for a touchdown as Cincinnati’s Zach Edwards (22) and Kevin Hyland (41) pursue.
  • Photo by Dean Strickland, O.D.
  • T.J. Logan returns a kickoff for a touchdown as Cincinnati’s Zach Edwards (22) and Kevin Hyland (41) pursue.
BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM/CHARLOTTE For the third straight year, a team from the Triangle represents the ACC in the Belk Bowl.

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.

Continue reading…

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    UNC finishes 7-6 after stellar bowl outing.

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Tar Heels try to extend Fedora's winning-season streak today

Posted by on Sat, Dec 28, 2013 at 12:11 AM

UNCs Sean Tapley goes over an East Carolina defender.
Sometimes a victory in a bowl game is a way to put the cherry on top of a great college football season.

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.

Continue reading…

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    Today's result will either mean a 7-6 or 6-7 finish for UNC.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Duke dominates Indy Week's first All-Triangle football team

Posted by on Tue, Dec 24, 2013 at 10:59 PM

Jamison Crowder runs against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.
As far as I’m aware, nobody has ever put together an All-Triangle college football team.

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.

Continue reading…

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    Top awards to Crowder, Edwards, Cutcliffe, UNC's Martin.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Lumps of coal: New NASL 2014 spring season truncates schedule and fairness

Posted by on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 at 9:23 AM

Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the league
Not a rumor was stirring, much less any intrigue
When out of my  e-mail there arose such a clatter
I sprang to my laptop to see what was the matter

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a shrinking spring season with just nine games to cheer
More rapid than RailHawks its commands they came
As the press release shouted and called teams by name!

“Now Strikers! now, Silverbacks! now, Fury and Eddies!
On, Cosmos! On, Indy! on Scorpions and Rowdies!
For a berth in the Soccer Bowl! To the top of the table!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash ... if you’re able!”

I still support the North American Soccer League’s split regular season format. But, they’re making it really, really hard.

In July, the NASL announced their 2014 regular season would retain the split format adopted for 2013. However, the league shifted its midseason break to coincide with the FIFA World Cup. As a result of this and various other factors, the 2014 spring season would comprise 10 games per team to determine both a berth in and hosting rights for the season-ending Soccer Bowl championship. The 2014 fall campaign, which would begin on July 19 following the conclusion of the World Cup, would be a 20-game season to determine the other Soccer Bowl opponent.

However, when Virginia Cavalry FC announced earlier this month that the expansion side would delay their debut until 2015, that left the league with 10 teams for 2014 instead of 11, and a seeming mathematical quandary. Sticking with the same format not only meant lopping another game off the already truncated spring season schedule but also an inequitable allocation of home matches.

Last week, the NASL announced that’s exactly what it is going to do. The 2014 spring season will begin April 12 and run through June 8, with each of the 10 clubs playing a nine-game schedule to determine the spring champion. Far more insidious, however, is that five teams will play five home games: the New York Cosmos, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven and Ottawa Fury FC. The remaining five teams—the Carolina RailHawks, Atlanta Silverbacks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton and Minnesota United FC—will play only four home games.

In a sport where home field advantage is renowned and with a schedule of only nine games, half the league playing one more home game than the other half is a patently unfair construction. Not only does it compromise the league’s competitive balance, but it also denies revenue from that lost home event to five presumably cash-strapped lower division soccer clubs. Meanwhile, the other five league members won’t share in the financial sting.

Compounding the inequity is the murky manner in which the spring season haves and have-nots were selected. A league official told Triangle Offense that determining the teams that would host five spring home games came down to venue blackout dates and other “scheduling considerations.”

This was also the reason given to Curt Johnson, president of the Carolina RailHawks. Speaking with Triangle Offense, Johnson says he was not part of any discussions with league officials over how many home games the RailHawks would host during the 2014 spring season. Indeed, Johnson says from April and November of next year, the team has only a single blackout date involving its use of WakeMed Soccer Park.

Would it have interfered with the RailHawks playing a fifth spring season home game?

“Not to my knowledge,” Johnson responded.

Such lack of transparency invites speculation as to why particular teams came to receive an additional home match. San Antonio has its privately-funded stadium to finance, Tampa Bay has the league’s newest deep-pocket owner, and Indy and Ottawa are the league’s two debut expansion franchises. And, of course, there’s the New York Cosmos™. It’s probably no coincidence that the two teams with the largest average attendances by sizable margins in 2013—San Antonio and New York—were among the chosen five. On the other hand, the three clubs owned and represented on the league’s Board of Directors in 2013 by Traffic Sports—Carolina, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta—will play four spring home games.

In the case of the Carolina RailHawks, Johnson notes that the spring schedule delivers other particular disparities. Carolina is one of only three teams—along with Ottawa and Minnesota United—that will not play at home to open or conclude the spring season. Meanwhile, three teams already rewarded with five home games also get to open and close their spring seasons on home turf: New York, San Antonio and Tampa Bay.

Moreover, only two of Carolina’s five road opponents are located in the eastern time zone. Indeed, the RailHawks are the only team in the league that has to travel to both Edmonton and Ottawa for road matches.

This scheduling triple-whammy has left a sour taste in the mouths of RailHawks officials.

“I’m disappointed. I’m frustrated,” Johnson says. “I don’t think it’s the schedule it could have been for us. I think it’s a very difficult schedule. It puts us behind the eight-ball right from the start compared to the five teams that host five home games.

“At this point, it is what it is,” Johnson continues. “But for people who are analyzing schedules to see who got the most difficult one, I think it’s pretty clear who got the most difficult one.”

That said, Johnson says the team’s focus continues to be winning championships and entertaining their fans.

“This is a distraction,” Johnson says. “This is unfortunate from the RailHawks’ perspective. But it’s not going to define our season.”

While the removal of Virginia Cavalry FC from the 2014 schedule created these immediate scheduling snafus, the original sin was the league’s decision to suspend play for five weeks during the entire World Cup. In contrast, Major League Soccer will take a two-week break from June 12–24, during the initial group stage.

Moreover, the initial decision to reveal the 2014 split season format back in July when there was still an obvious risk for further upheaval prior to formulating the final schedule was a PR misstep. After the Cavalry bowed out, there were other options available to NASL officials, including adding a 10th spring game with opponents determined by rivalry, regional proximity or random draw in order to even out the number of home matches. Or, abandoning the pretense of completing a compressed spring season prior to the World Cup break in order to explore more flexible scheduling options.

Instead, the NASL has chosen a fundamentally flawed setup. And for five of its teams, this season’s salutation goes out as 2013 starts fading from sight:

“Happy Christmas to all, and enjoy your extra plane flight.”
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    I still support the NASL's split regular season format. But they’re making it really, really hard.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hatchell watches as Tar Heels outrun scrappy High Point

Posted by on Sat, Dec 21, 2013 at 4:57 PM

UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell watches her team from the de facto skybox.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC’s final game before Christmas turns out to be a very special occasion.

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 Tar Heels put six players in double figures for the second time this season and win 103-71.

Continue reading…

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    Tar Heels make case for Top 10 spot with another easy win.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Peters, Gray spark Duke to second-half romp over Albany

Posted by on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Haley Peters focuses on the hoop. Seated (l-r) are Barry Hastings, Mike Potter, Joe Johnson and Nolan Hayes.
  • Photo by Orin Day, courtesy
  • Haley Peters focuses on the hoop. Seated (l-r) are Barry Hastings, Mike Potter, Joe Johnson and Nolan Hayes.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Now we find out how this Duke team will respond to a hard loss.

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.

Continue reading…

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    Duke bounces back from tough loss with big second half.

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Driver, driver, driver, driver, driver, driver, driver, driver: notes on UNC Mens' Basketball losing at home to Texas

Posted by on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 9:39 AM

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.

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    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."

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Canes Report: Oy, Canada

Posted by on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 at 8:21 AM

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.

Its a gratuitous holiday cheerleaders shot. Youre welcome.
So, if you’re a glass-half-full person, the four points that the Hurricanes got out of a four-game, six-night road trip out west are pretty sweet.

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.

Continue reading…

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    The Canes made an average go of a four-game trip out west. As they return to our time zone, it's time to get serious about the standings.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Connecticut gets ahead big early and Duke doesn't come back

Posted by on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 10:53 PM

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.

Tricia Liston drives on Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.

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.

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    Blue Devils have another tough night against vaunted Huskies.

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