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Thursday, December 19, 2013

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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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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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday Night Special: Duke bench shows up for 79-69 win over Michigan

Posted by on Wed, Dec 4, 2013 at 2:40 AM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—Ten minutes before tip-off of the Duke-Michigan men’s basketball game—a herky-jerky contest the 10th-ranked Blue Devils won with relative ease, 79–69—the Wolverines, ranked No. 22 in the nation, gathered territorially at center court, as if to claim Cameron as their own. During the national anthem, they left the sidelines and stood spaced out across the court riot police-style, ready to face down rebel scum. As the home team was introduced, Michigan reformed their warrior’s circle at the foul line, ringing their leader Mitch McGary, the 6-foot-10, 255-pound sophomore, who strutted and yelled, prowling like a large dog in search of something good to pee on. They’d come to Durham to fight for ground, claim it inch by inch, and stick their flag in Duke’s gullet for their first big win of the year.

Then McGary missed his first two shots, both airballs, Michigan shot 31 percent for 20 minutes, and Duke reached halftime with the 10-point edge the game would end with. “They’re a championship level program,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, as if trying to convince the press corps after the game, who’d all witnessed the same botched Michigan pick and rolls and missed backdoors that in more capable hands had plagued the Blue Devils in games against Arizona and Vermont. “Our defense was outstanding tonight.”

It was a strange low-scoring affair between two normally prolific offenses until the second half, when Duke’s Quinn Cook and Michigan’s Caris LeVert started trading baskets, LeVert dropping 20, Cook 24, including two dazzlers, a beautiful up-and-under from the left and a double spin on the other side.

Some of the biggest crowd cheers of the night came for the Duke bench, whom fans seemed delighted to see, like regulars seeing new dishes appear on their favorite restaurant’s menu. The 7-feet-tall Marshall Plumlee spent just six minutes in the game, but it seemed longer, as he ran conspicuously, blocked shots, grabbed three rebounds, scored two points and checked his tendency to foul. More roars went up for Matt Jones, who hounded Michigan’s best scorer, playing defense and rebounding as if these were things he liked to do. Amile Jefferson didn't miss a shot, scored eight, got one block, two assists and a steal, and yanked six boards from the ether like a bullfrog nailing flies.

And then there was Andre Dawkins, who checked into the game with the Duke lead down to six. Within 60 seconds he’d hit two three-pointers to put his team back up by 12, trying to look serious and hide his joyful smile as he headed back to the huddle. “Dre all day!” cheered the crowd. They've had five years to refine this personalized cheer for Dawkins, whose hard-won and inconsistent triumphs they seem to relish the most. A few minutes later he left the game after getting torched by LeVert for a layup, reminding his vocal supporters why they don’t see Dawkins more. He finished with eight points and a steal. “I’m really happy for him,” said his coach.

In all, nine Duke players logged more than five minutes, just four days after a smaller Blue Devil rotation seemed worn down in the second half against Arizona, who beat Duke by six.

One player, however was missing against Michigan: the enigmatic Rasheed Sulaimon, who was not injured or sick or even grumpy looking yet did not play for the first time this year, after an Arizona game when his ill-advised drives into traffic were blocked brutally, again and again. He sat on the bench, cheering his team, his long legs folded in front of him. When he stood to huddle, he looked not unlike LeVert: both 6-foot-5 slashers, long-armed, hard to stop when they get going. As Michigan’s offense sputtered, LeVert found his place and role, but with Duke’s offense working fine without him, Sulaimon seems lost. “He has to play better than the guys who played tonight,” Coach K said curtly, when asked about the young star’s absence. “He contributed great from the bench,” he added. “I’m glad you asked about him.”

[Box score]

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Who’s Afraid of Jabari Parker? (after Duke’s one point win over Vermont)

Posted by on Mon, Nov 25, 2013 at 9:53 AM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—Five minutes into the second half of Duke’s weird 91-90 win over the 1-4 Catamounts of the University of Vermont, Jabari Parker, the 6-foot-8, 235-pound future NBA All-Star, stole the ball from a green-clad guard named Candon Rusin, loped down court, and dunked delicately with two hands, as if dropping a bomb down a foxhole. The crowd went nuts. Vermont called a timeout. The score was 61-49, Duke.

“Right after that,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski post-game, “was our worst.” He looked and sounded like a Michelin chef who’d just eaten three microwaved corndogs. “Those are the kind of situations when we show our immaturity.”

Ten minutes later, Vermont led by 3. They’d been getting layups all night long, as Duke’s defenders failed to rotate back under the basket, leaving dudes wide open. Now Vermont started making jumpers. The cheering section behind the Catamounts bench lost their mind and kept losing it, lead by one young brown-haired soprano whose whoop seemed to cut through Cameron’s nervous up-and-downs of frightened hush and roar.

Vermont senior Sandro Carissimo was the first player who seemed to believe, directing traffic, driving hard, drawing fouls, hitting shots. Hector Harold was next, a 6-foot-7 junior coming off the bench to drop 24 points on Duke’s Rodney Hood and Parker. Other men with excellent names like Clancy Rugg haunted the unprotected rim, helping Vermont shoot 65 percent from the floor.

Meanwhile, Blue Devil veterans Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton vied for world's dumbest foul, as they slide-tackled jump-shooters at the three-point line. Defense was rarely performed, and even the occasional Parker blocked shot was promptly wasted by Vermont’s weak side rebound and score.

In the end, Duke survived this game at the line, forcing shots, drawing fouls and making 25 of 30 free throws. Parker had 26 points and Hood had 22, including some dazzlers, but nobody was fooled.

"From watching the old stuff,” Parker told the Fayetteville Observer back in early November, recalling Duke teams of yore, “they always brought energy. They were never comfortable, and teams were afraid of them. I think nowadays, teams aren't afraid of us but are more highly anticipated in looking forward to beating us. We need to have that mentality back from the late ’90s where teams were afraid to play and schedule us."

With 11 seconds left in the game, the score was 90-89 Duke as Vermont’s Rusin stepped to the line to try an extra point to finish a four-point play and tie things up. Cameron Indoor Stadium seemed to lift off its supports in the din of people: students, season ticket holders, the casual fan who’d spotted this game on the schedule and knew they could score tickets. An 80-something guy there to cross Cameron off his bucket list, the little blue haired boy in spandex sitting courtside, a crew of Durham locals screaming their heads off in the Duke student section. The Vermont fans shook their fists like Visigoths poised to sack the Roman Empire. Every basketball player has imagined that moment of standing on the edge of history, stepping up for one last shot.

Vermont’s Rusin made the free throw and tied the game. Hood drew the foul and hit one of two. And then Rusin had the ball again, driving the left baseline, reaching out one long arm to let it fly. The ball was still in his hand when the buzzer sounded and the game-ending red light on the basket lit, and he could only watch as the ball floated through the air and nestled softly through the net.

“It feels like a loss,” said Hood. “Unacceptable,” said Coach K. “It’s like telling a kid not to do something and he keeps doing it,” said Duke's Quinn Cook.

More than an hour after the game had ended, Hood and Cook and their coach were nowhere to be seen, but the Vermont players were back on the court at Cameron, hugging their parents and fans while the stadium crew cleaned up. Their bus was waiting, but they didn’t want to leave.

(Box Score)

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    Krzyzewski looked and sounded like a Michelin chef who’d just eaten three microwaved corn dogs.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wolfpack foils Tulane for first big win of Moore's tenure

Posted by on Sun, Nov 24, 2013 at 6:31 PM

Lakeesa Daniel drives to the hoop against Tulanes Chinwe Duru. States No. 3 is Miah Spencer.
  • Photo by Alexis Baird
  • Lakeesa Daniel drives to the hoop against Tulane's Chinwe Duru. State's No. 3 is Miah Spencer.
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH This time it gets serious.

N.C. State has been able to coast through its first four women’s basketball games of the season, beating outgunned opposition by an average of 32 points.

The Wolfpack won’t likely win like that today.

This time first-year coach Wes Moore plays for the first time against a major opponent when Tulane (4-0) visits.
Wake Forest alum Lisa Stockton’s team, like the Wolfpack, was in the WNIT last season. But Tulane won 25 games.

This is the schools’ first meeting in women’s basketball. If State wins today, it could be considered one of the school’s best athletic victories since the baseball sub-regional last spring.

This time State establishes control in the first few minutes and holds a working margin throughout, cruising to a 59-46 victory.

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    State improves to 5-0 for first time since '02.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hood's shots and Parker's blocks give Duke the edge in 83-74 win over ECU

Posted by on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 8:22 AM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM—“This team is not gonna go away,” is what Coach Krzyzewski said to his No. 6 Duke Blue Devils during Tuesday night’s second round of NIT Season Tip-Off Tournament play against a relentless Eastern Carolina University squad.

Of course, he gave this warning sometime after the Blue Devils opened the first half with an 11-of-11 field-goal shooting barrage. While their early perfection suggested that this game would be their third, 30-plus point victory in five days, ECU—led by guards Prince Williams and Antonio Robinson—eventually rallied from behind and cut Duke’s lead to one point midway through the second half.

Even if Coach K thought that the atmosphere in Cameron was ruined by questionable NIT ticketing procedures, the two, large, and rowdy ECU fan sections still couldn’t outdo the Cameron Crazies. Pirates head coach Jeff Lebo played for four years as a Tar Heel underneath Dean Smith, so that might have given ECU cause to increase the octaves. However, as many times as ECU tried to make a run to take the lead or tie the game, these things would happen: Quinn Cook would get his shooting groove back, Jabari Parker would make back-to-back blocks (two of his six on the night), Parker would get a rebound and weave coast to coast through the whole ECU team for a dunk, or Rodney Hood—who scored a game-high 30 points—would sneak his way to the rim for a layup.

ECU didn’t go away. Duke put them away.

Sulaimon’s defense convinced me of this. The NCAA’s new hand-checking rules give quick ball handlers like ECU’s Prince Williams many more opportunities to expose the weaknesses of slower, less agile defenders. If an on-the-ball defender can no longer use his hands to keep his man in front of him, that defender must rely solely on his feet and positioning. Sulaimon is a master at this—the zig-zag drill, the shifting on a dime, the shuffle. In the 22 minutes he played, he stuck with Williams, keeping him flustered and tired enough to throw off ECU’s offense.

Here, (at least on defense) we saw flickers of the Sulaimon from last season. This season, on offense, the sophomore slasher has played like an outcast to this new Duke system, which is currently being ran by Hood and Parker’s magic. He may not know where he fits in. But Sulaimon doesn’t need to touch the ball as much as those guys do, he just needs to look less clueless and less anxious when he does get a touch.

Following Duke’s first-round win over UNC Asheville, Coach Krzyzewski confirmed that Rasheed Sulaimon was still playing through a lingering illness and had been for the last two games. “He didn’t play very well. That was pretty obvious, right?” Coach K said to me after the game. “You don’t even have to quote me on that. You can just make an astute comment. But I’ll verify it. I’ll have your back.”

It wasn’t as obvious tonight against ECU, but Sulaimon still needs to have Duke’s back on both ends of the court.

Next week, Duke (4-1) will head to Madison Square Garden in New York to play against Alabama (3-1) in the semifinal round of the NIT Season Tip-Off. But first, the Blue Devils will play another home against University of Vermont, on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Click here for the Duke/ECU box score.
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    Jabari Parker's defense and Rodney Hood's career-high 30 points help Duke escape an upset to ECU.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Burke's 23 leads easy Wolfpack win over Morgan State

Posted by on Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 10:56 PM

REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State continues its early-season run of home games against Division I opponents from outside the “power conferences” as first-year mentor Wes Moore starts his tenure at the helm.

Tonight’s foe is Morgan State of the MEAC, which lost its opener at home to Lincoln (Pa.) of the CIAA.

Kody Burke eyes the hoop for a one-hander.
  • File photo by Greg Mintel/Courtesy NCSU athletics
  • Kody Burke eyes the hoop for a one-hander.

The Wolfpack is 3-0, with easy wins over St. Bonaventure, Towson and Presbyterian under its belt.

This one is as easy as expected, as the Wolfpack rolls 94-52.

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    State finishes expected 4-0 start for new coach Wes Moore.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Young Tar Heels play tough, but experienced Lady Vols still better

Posted by on Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 1:00 AM

Brittany Rountree drives against Tennessee’s Isabelle Harrison.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL There’s a little bit of sadness around this Top 20 women’s basketball game.

When the contract for Tennessee to play last season and this one UNC was originally signed, the matchup was supposed to be between Hall of Fame coaches Pat Summitt and Sylvia Hatchell, who many long years ago was one of Summitt’s assistants with the Lady Vols.

But a year and a half ago Summitt became the Vols’ head coach emeritus, as she resigned because of her Alzheimer’s disease. And then last month, Hatchell was diagnosed with leukemia.

So acting coach and long-time Hatchell assistant directs the No. 12 Tar Heels (1-0), while second-year mentor Holly Warlick heads up the No. 4 Lady Vols (1-0) in front of the national audience on ESPN2. UNC’s No. 1 recruiting class in the country will get its first big collegiate test tonight.

On this night the more experienced Lady Vols are just a little better, holding off the Tar Heels down the stretch to win 81-65.

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    UNC falls a bit short in first big test of the season.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jabari Parker talks to himself, and other scenes from the Duke-Davidson blowout

Posted by on Sat, Nov 9, 2013 at 8:43 AM

Jabari Parker's home page. - JABARIPARKER22.COM
  • Jabari Parker's home page.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM, DURHAM—Roughly 10 minutes into the Duke season opener at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Blue Devils trampled Davidson, 111-77, Jabari Parker, the ballyhooed freshman who many expect will be a top five NBA draft pick in 2014, said to himself, “That’s all day.”

He was referring to the shot he’d just made from the top of the key, which had started with an exploratory jab step, pump fake, and then a second jab step at his defender, as if poking a pork roast to test for doneness, before draining the 3-pointer, one of three he would make en route to a 22-point performance in 23 minutes on 8 for 10 shooting.

He was right. It was all day, or at least all game, and not only for Parker but the entire Duke team, which shot a lavish 70% from the floor. Parker was calm throughout. “Bang bang,” he muttered quietly, just before halftime, as he hit another three.

Duke’s previous one-and-done freshman sensation, Austin Rivers of the 2011–12 season, also used to talk to himself on the court, but not calmly, instead expounding on grave injustices wrought by referees, opposing players, and occasionally his own teammates.

Parker, by contrast, talks to himself—and plays basketball—like a dispassionate hit man observing the effects of violence. There’s an economy to his movement that is unusual for a young player. He stopped jumping on defense for a while after he’d picked up a few fouls, and found places in the middle of the court where his massive wingspan limited his need to move too much on defense. He seemed relaxed and comfortable in his large body. He’s fluid and he’s fast. One of his signature moves is going to be the quick spin off an entry pass; he was whistled for a travel the one time he tried it, but it wasn’t clear if the call was correct or if no one is used to seeing that in the college game. Another signature: the alley-oop, a thunderous dunk in the second half, when a perfect pass was lofted his way over the top of Davidson’s hapless zone.

He was not the only Duke player on the court. Quinn Cook was there, lofting that pass, one of his eight assists on the night. Quinn is stronger and has cooler hair on his head and additional hair on his face, all of which makes him look more manly and in charge. He scored 21 points in 34 minutes, but the play that said it all came four minutes into the second half, when he tucked the ball in football style, like Kyrie Irving, Duke’s other recent one-and-done phenom, whacked joyfully through contact, scored the basket, and added the free throw. If that’s the Quinn Cook who shows up each night, Duke’s opponents are in trouble.

In terms of Rodney Hood, Duke’s other leading scorer—22 points on 9 for 10 shooting with nine rebounds, of the authoritative kind—he looked like he was in a layup line that only he could see. The latest came towards the end of the game The only bad decisions he made was when he passed the ball, because he could take every Davidson player one-on-one at will from now until the end of time. Hood is a scorer, which means he finds strange angles all the way to the basket and uses the backboard, ball spin and his telescoping arms in very bewitching ways. Watching Hood, it’s hard not to wonder: Why would anyone shoot from far away?

Nine others saw playing time for Duke on Friday night. Amile Jefferson drove to the basket more in this first game than he did perhaps all of last season, and all of his ten points were interesting. Rasheed Sulaimon attacked the paint and hit threes for 20. Freshman Matt Jones earned three steals and the season’s first emotional hug from coach Mike Krzyzewski, after fighting for a loose ball. Together, they all destroyed Davidson, but Davidson is not their future. The future is Kansas, this Tuesday, in Chicago; the future is Alabama and Arizona; the future is Michigan, Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia; the future is March.

“Jabari has a lot to learn,” said Coach K after the game. Next week’s big game in Jabari’s home town of Chicago, the coach explained, would be good preparation for the post-season, although not in the way one might expect.

“Tickets, friends calling, stuff like that.”  

Box score here.
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    Jabari Parker talks to himself—and plays basketball—like a dispassionate hit man observing the effects of violence.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

UNC, State open women's hoop seasons today

Posted by on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 12:34 AM

The wait is over for fans of ACC women’s basketball.

Yes, the action starts today, with two Triangle teams hitting the court.

No. 12 UNC (29-7 last season), which is picked fourth in the conference, will host Air Force (4-26) at 4:30 p.m. at Carmichael Arena.

Then at 6 N.C. State (17-17), picked ninth, will take on St. Bonaventure (10-19) at Reynolds Coliseum.

Conference favorite and defending champion No. 2 Duke (33-3) will open Sunday at 6 p.m. at No. 9 California (32-4) in a game to be shown on ESPNU.

The Blue Devils return five seniors, all members of the No. 1 recruiting class of four years ago including forward Haley Peters and guards Chelsea Gray and Tricia Liston. Also back are junior center Elizabeth Williams, the ACC rookie of the year two seasons ago, and sophomore guard Alexis Jones who was MVP of the ACC Tournament. Joanne P. McCallie’s club also has the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class led by forwards Oderah Chidom and Kendall McCravey-Cooper.

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    Duke visits Cal in Top Ten battle Sunday.

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