Don’t worry. It will end someday. I lived in ACC country for the entire Wooden era.
Blue Devils primed for a run
Duke may very well be preseason No. 2 heading into next season. No more Brittney Griner to worry about, no more Skylar Diggins.
Duke has that No. 1 recruiting class now rising seniors and a No. 2 class coming in as freshmen, and with not one but two national player-of-the-year candidates in rising junior center Elizabeth Williams and rising senior guard Chelsea Gray.
The Blue Devils (33-3 and ACC champions) would seem to have what it takes to go all the way if they can avoid being mesmerized by the UConn jerseys.
During Joanne P. McCallie’s six years at the helm the Blue Devils have finished their season in a very appropriate spot except once, that in her second season when they were a No. 1 seed and famously got sent to Michigan State where she had previously been head coach — and with team leader Abby Waner struggling through a leg injury were upset by the No. 9 seed Spartans in front of a nasty crowd.
(To her credit, McCallie never complained publicly about the assignment.)But let’s take a look at the three Triangle schools and assess the immediate past and future.
CONSTANT CENTER/NORFOLK, Va. It’s Go Time for Duke in women’s basketball.
ACC champion Duke (33-2) is seeded No. 2 and the Big East champion Irish (34-1) — who will join the ACC for next season — No. 1.
Notre Dame has a national marquee player in senior point guard Skylar Diggins, who was named a first-team AP All-American earlier in the day. Duke’s Chelsea Gray, out for the season since a knee injury on Valentine’s Day, was named to the second team while Duke center Elizabeth Williams and Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride are on the third team.
The teams did square off early last season, with the Irish coming back to win 56-54 on Nov. 25, 2011, in the Bahamas.
Duke fights hard and gives the Irish a good scare, but it’s too much Diggins as Notre Dame advances 87-76.
CONSTANT CENTER/NORFOLK, Va. Duke will be a solid favorite coming into its regional semifinal game against Nebraska, and the Blue Devils have been great in this game in recent seasons.
No. 2 seed Duke (32-2) has won three straight times in Round-of-16 games before being eliminated in the Elite Eight.
The No. 2-ranked Irish (34-1) annihilated Kansas 93-63 in the other first-round matchup on Sunday.
It’s the first meeting between the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils and the No. 24-ranked Huskers.
And oh, it will be a homecoming game for Virginia Beach native and Duke center and leading scorer Elizabeth Williams, playing for the first time in Tidewater as a Blue Devil.
For the third time in as many NCAA games the Blue Devils grind one out, survive and advance, ousting the Cornhuskers 53-45.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke has made a habit of getting to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 in recent years, failing to get there just once since 1997.
The opponent is No. 7 seed Oklahoma State (22-10), which will try to stop the Blue Devils from a date with No. 6 seed Nebraska on Sunday in Norfolk, Va.
It’s not an easy assignment for the fifth-ranked Blue Devils, since the Cowgirls play in the tough Big XII and are used to this kind of atmosphere.
It turns out not to be an easy game at all. But Duke engineers its best comeback in years, recovering from a 15-point deficit just after halftime to eliminate the Cowgirls 68-59.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM One last time to protect the home court, then on to brighter lights.
That’s what Duke hopes to get accomplished on Tuesday night at 7 (ESPNU), when Oklahoma State visits for the second round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
Both teams got moderate challenges in the first round on Sunday, with the Blue Devils getting a noisy 67-51 win over MEAC champion Hampton and the Cowgirls topping DePaul 73-56.
The teams have played three times before with Duke winning them all, including a 73-45 result in Stillwater two seasons ago.
Duke is looking to improve to 18-0 in NCAA Tournament games at Cameron, and hasn’t lost at home to anyone but Connecticut in over five years.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke begins another quest today.
After three straight NCAA Tournaments in which a great Blue Devil team ended its run in the Elite Eight, perhaps this team is good enough to make a Final Four.
Of course no NCAA Tournament run will ever be easy, although at least Joanne P. McCallie’s club gets to start at home.
Today’s opponent for the No. 5 Blue Devils (30-2), seeded No. 2 in the Norfolk Region behind Notre Dame, is four-time defending MEAC champion Hampton (28-5), which is seeded No. 15 but both head coaches think it should be higher.
Hampton has come to Cameron in this situation before, losing 72-37 in the first round in 2010.
Hampton has brought about 1,000 fans, making the seating sections a sea of royal blue since the schools’ colors are so similar.
The Blue Devils have to fight to escape, but finally win 67-51 for their 17th straight NCAA Tournament victory in Durham.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke begins its quest for post-season glory on Sunday afternoon against an opponent that didn’t have a long way to travel.
Duke is exactly in the spot most people expected for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament opening this weekend.
And maybe UNC got a nice surprise.
The Blue Devils and Tar Heels were the only teams from North Carolina in the field when the 64-team bracket was announced Monday night.
But a half-dozen North State teams got come consolation a few hours later, as N.C. State received a bid to the WNIT along with East Carolina, North Carolina A&T, Davidson, UNC Charlotte and Appalachian State.
The No. 5-ranked Blue Devils (30-2), carrying the automatic berth from their ACC Tournament title, got the No. 2 seed in the Norfolk Region and will host MEAC champion and No. 15 seed Hampton (28-5) on Sunday at 12:05 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The No. 13-ranked Tar Heels (28-6), who were the ACC runners-up, received the No. 3 seed in the Bridgeport Region and will take on No. 14 seed and America East champion Albany (27-3) on Sunday at 2:40 p.m. in Newark, Del.
Anytime you hear North Carolina fans say, “We lost, but I’m proud of our effort,” you know the Tar Heels must have played very well. A fanbase with extraordinarily high expectations typically doesn’t absorb losses gracefully, but today UNC earned praise from even its most irrational supporters despite dropping the ACC Tournament final to Miami 87-77.
The Hurricanes defeated UNC three times this season and beat them in historic fashion during the game at Miami. Carolina thus regained its pride this afternoon, earning a slim second half lead before tiring at the end and failing at any point to stop the Canes’ relentless offensive machine.
Miami held the decisive hand throughout the game. Sophomore guard Shane Larkin scored a career-high 28 points and added seven assists and five rebounds. He continually beat UNC off the dribble at the point of attack and either scored himself or kicked to open teammates. When Roy Williams opted to play a zone defense to rest his team and protect his players against foul trouble, Larkin effortlessly scored against that setup as well.
P.J. Hairston did his part to keep UNC competitive. The sophomore from Greensboro brought joy to local fans and the Carolina crowd at large, scoring 28 points of his own. Freshman Marcus Paige struggled defensively against Larkin but scored 17 points and continues to mature as a playmaker.
Given how well Miami executed its offense — the Canes shot 51 percent and 55 percent on threes — UNC couldn’t withstand Reggie Bullock’s 3-for-14 shooting performance. The Heels’ small lineup also ceded a 36-28 rebounding advantage.
Moving on, the NCAA Tournament field will manifest beginning at 6:00. And within an hour after that, the national basketball audience will have forgotten this game and every other conference tournament result. Bracket mania (i.e., socially encouraged gambling) will dominate chatter this week, and all three Triangle teams are expected to make the field.
From a local perspective, everyone wonders if Duke’s loss to Maryland on Friday will cause the Blue Devils to drop from a No. 1 seed to a No. 2. The Wolfpack appear headed for a spot in the 8-9 range, while UNC may have played its way to a No. 6.
But before you bin memories of the Carolina/Miami ACC final, click here to view the box score.
Seeded No. 2 entering the weekend, the Devils shot just 4-for-25 on threes, forcing too many contested shots and failing to establish inside-outside balance. Maryland also pummeled them on the glass and enjoyed a lead ranging from 7-10 points for most of the second half.
The big question pertains to NCAA Tournament seeding. Duke had expected to claim a No. 1 seed, and while that remains a possibility other conference frontrunners could leapfrog them and push the Devils to a No. 2.
Meanwhile, No. 3 seed UNC and No. 5 seed N.C. State both advanced to today’s semifinal round.
The Tar Heels dispatched Florida State by a surprising 83-62 margin. Reversing their atrocious shooting performance versus the Blue Devils, the Heels knocked down 10-for-22 on threes. They also limited themselves to seven turnovers and forced the Seminoles into 18 miscues.
But Carolina didn’t escape Friday without drama. Sharpshooter P.J. Hairston cut the skin between two fingers on his left (non-shooting) hand, an injury that spilled blood copiously onto the Greensboro Coliseum court and resulted in eight stitches. His status remained uncertain heading into the semifinal.
Earlier on Friday, Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack thrashed Virginia 75-56. State’s place in the NCAA Tournament was secure prior to the weekend, but defeating the No. 4 seed in such resounding fashion likely won the squad a better spot when the selection committee announces the seeds on Sunday evening.
State torched UVA from deep, burying 8-for-16 on threes. The Pack also demonstrated a greater commitment to defense than they have for much of the season, stifling the Cavaliers to 38 percent shooting.
The Wolfpack play Miami this afternoon in one semifinal, while UNC will battle Maryland.