CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke begins its 16th straight appearance in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament on Saturday afternoon, and Joanne P. McCallie's Blue Devils have one benefit they'll have for the first time since 2004.
They're starting the tournament on their home floor.
Duke (26-5), which is ranked No. 6 nationally, has the No. 2 seed in the Memphis Region and will take on No. 15 seed Hampton (20-11) in a 2:30 p.m. game at Cameron.
It's the second game of a doubleheader, as No. 7 seed LSU (20-9) will face No. 10 seed Hartford (27-4) in the noon game, with the winners squaring off at 7 p.m. Monday night.
Plenty of tickets are available.
Duke isn't the only Triangle ACC team playing its first-round game Saturday, as No. 10 seed UNC (19-11) will take on No. 7 seed and nationally No. 18-ranked Gonzaga (27-4) in the Sacramento Regional in Seattle at 10:30 p.m. The No. 10 seed is the Tar Heels' lowest NCAA seed ever.
No. 9 seed N.C. State (20-13) will play its first-round game on Sunday night against No. 8 seed UCLA (24-8) in Minneapolis in the first round of the Kansas City Regional.
Duke and Hampton have one thing in common that the other teams at Cameron don't, and it's not because they're blue-clad teams from well-regarded private schools in neighboring states.
They both won their conference tournaments - in locations about half an hour apart, as the Blue Devils won the ACC in Greensboro and the Pirates won the MEAC in Winston-Salem.
"We're obviously really proud to host this wonderful NCAA Tournament, and we're grateful to a lot of people at Duke that made this possible," said McCallie, whose team last season played its NCAA games at Michigan State where she was the former coach and lost to the Spartans in the second round. "That's just a great thing for Duke, and it's really reflective of the long tradition and history here."
The Blue Devils will be taking on a Pirate club in its first season under David Six, who began the campaign as interim head coach and has earned a three-year contract.
Hampton is 0-3 in first-round NCAA games at the Division I level, but won the NCAA Division II title in 1988.
"This is hallowed ground in terms of basketball, Cameron Indoor Stadium," said Six, one of whose assistants is former N.C. Central point guard and assistant coach Annitra Cole. "Everybody's heard about it or seen it on TV. But at the end of the day the court's 94 feet, the baskets are 10 feet off the ground. So that's what I've told my young ladies, and we're ready to go. I just think that we can't get caught up. We're happy to be here; don't get me wrong. We celebrated that we're here, but now that we're here we want to stay. It's like getting into a party and then getting put out. We want to dance a little while, so let's try that."
Duke, of course, would like to believe it can go a long way in the tournament.
"I just think we have to be focused, stick to our game, and play the way that's made us successful," senior forward Joy Cheek (pictured) said. "Play defense and make the hustle plays. In the tournament everyone has played 30-plus games, so every game is not going to be pretty - it's the team that wants it more. And we have to want it more that our opponent each game. So if we want to make a deep run in the tournament - which I think we're more than capable of doing - we have to go out and play like every game is our last game."
DURHAM ATHLETIC PARK/DURHAM N.C. Central hosts yet another challenging baseball battle with an ACC foe, this time an N.C. State team that's looking for its first road win of the season.
The Eagles are looking for their first win anywhere, and really haven't kept more than a couple of games competitive so far this season.
Because the weather forecast isn't good, the game will have a 3 p.m. start - sort of - instead of the regularly scheduled 6 p.m. starting time. It's the first of their two scheduled meetings this season, as the Eagles will visit Doak Field at Dail Park on April 13.
Jeff Citero (0-1, 9.82), a junior out of Southeast Raleigh, will be on the mound for the Eagles while the Wolfpack sends big sophomore Mike Russo (0-0, 6.14).
It's competitive from the start, but the Wolfpack scores in every inning, hitting five homers in a 24-6 romp.
BACKYARD BISTRO/RALEIGH Kellie Harper couldn't remember exactly when she had been in such a situation before.
Back when the N.C. State women's basketball coach was a point guard at Tennessee the Lady Vols - who won three NCAA titles during her career - were pretty much in the NCAA Tournament before the season started. Then during her five seasons as head coach at Western Carolina and three seasons as an assistant at Chattanooga before that, Southern Conference teams knew they had to win the conference tournament or they might earn a bid to the WNIT.
But the Wolfpack (20-13) has been on the NCAA "bubble" ever since losing the ACC championship game to Duke eight days ago, although most of the bracketologists had N.C. State in the field.
Harper and her team gathered with about 300 fans on Monday night to watch the Selection Special on ESPN that announced the 64 competing teams.
ACC champion Duke (27-5) is going to be one of the 64 teams on the board when the NCAA Women's Tournament field is announced tonight at 7 on ESPN.
N.C. State (20-13) and UNC (19-11) think they're in, but won't be sure until they see their names on the board tonight.
The Wolfpack and Tar Heels are two of about eight ACC teams who will be waiting with baited breath, first to make sure they're in the field and then to see where they're headed.
Duke and Florida State (26-5) are both hosting first- and second-round games, so it's a certainty the Seminoles are also going to get an invitation. It would also shock the women's basketball world if Georgia Tech (23-9) or Virginia (21-9) doesn't get the thumbs-up.
The Wolfpack, under their first-year coach Kellie Harper, and the Tar Heels, under veteran Sylvia Hatchell, likely sealed their invitations with recent wins.
State had to avenge a regular-season loss by beating Clemson in the first round of the ACC Tournament, and the Wolfpack got that done and added two more wins to boot.
The Tar Heels' signature victory was over Duke at Carmichael Auditorium on Senior Day - UNC's final game before the ACC Tournament - but they had to beat N.C. Central on Sunday to avoid seeing the bid slip through their fingers, and they got that done.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL It's that unique final regular-season game that UNC is playing after the ACC Women's Tournament for the second straight season.
Today the Tar Heels take on local rival N.C. Central, which like the South Dakota team UNC played in this situation last year is transitioning from Division II and not yet eligible for post-season play.
Last season, the Coyotes put a huge scare into the Tar Heels at the Smith Center before falling 75-69.
This is of course the season finale for the Eagles, who have won 11 of their last 19 games after an 0-9 start. NCCU is 0-4 against the ACC this season, but did fall by only 76-63 on Feb. 22 at Wake Forest.
It's the third straight season in which they've played each other, and the closer of the two games was a 98-45 UNC victory last season in the Smith Center.
All the NCAA bracketologies heading into Monday night's selection show have the Tar Heels in the 64-team field, but a shocking home-court loss to NCCU would probably send Sylvia Hatchell's club to the WNIT.
UNC will have to play without freshman center Waltiea Rolle, who is out with a concussion.
It takes them a while to establish control but the Tar Heels avoid that disaster, eventually winning 88-66 in a pretty entertaining contest.
Eleven ACC women's basketball teams played their final game before the post-season tournaments at some point during the ACC Tournament last week.
Duke has, of course, clinched an NCAA bid as the conference's regular-season champion and three other teams - Florida State, Virginia and Georgia Tech - seem to be resting easy about their spot on the board when the NCAA Tournament bracket comes out tomorrow night.
Nearly half a dozen more may or may not be on a "bubble." Only one has something left to add to the argument.
That's UNC, which for the second straight year will play a home game on the same day as the ACC men's tournament final.
Last season it was against South Dakota, and although the Coyotes gave the Tar Heels a good scare at the Smith Center UNC didn't have to win.
It does today. Sylvia Hatchell's club is going to be a really big favorite in its 3:30 home contest against N.C. Central in the Eagles' final game of the season, but the Tar Heels absolutely have to emerge victorious to avoid giving any naysayers on the selection committee a lot of fodder.
Cetera DeGraffenreid (pictured) is the Tar Heels' assist leader, and has been their best player over the last few weeks.
N.C. Central junior C.J. Wilkerson has been named first-team Division I All-Independent and also the independents' newcomer of the year.
The team was selected in a vote of sports information directors and head coaches.
Wilkerson averaged 16.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists for the Eagles this season.
Seattle forward Charles Garcia was selected as player of the year and Seattle's Cameron Dollar is coach of the year.
Longwood's Dana Smith and Antwan Carter and SIU-Edwardsville's Mark Yelovich are on the first team with Wilkerson and Garcia.
Give the Eagles that bronze medal.
N.C. Central finished third in the Longwood women's basketball tournament, taking out Seattle 62-58 behind 24 points from Joanna Miller (pictured).
Latoya Bennett added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Joli Robinson's Eagles (11-17), who have their best record during their three seasons on the five-year transition track from NCAA Division II to Division I. Danielle DeBerry added 10 points for NCCU.
Ashley Brown led Seattle (6-24) with 21 points, followed by Tatiana Heck with 16 and Elle Kerfoot 12.
The Eagles end their season on March 14 at UNC.
N.C. Central didn't play well as it tried to sweep its two-game season series with Longwood.
At least there's a consolation game.
Chelsea Coward's 19 points and 11 rebounds led three players in double figures as the host Lancers claimed a 67-43 victory at Willett Hall, advancing to the title game of their own tournament on Sunday at 4:30.
Shanise Blanks (pictured) paced NCCU (10-17) with 12 points, followed by Latoya Bennett with 11 points and Joanna Miller with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Longwood (9-19) got 17 points from Krystal Garrison and 13 from Crystal Smith.
The Lancers, who led 44-28 at halftime, will play for the title against Florida Gulf Coast (23-6), which topped Seattle 51-38 in today's first game.
Seattle (6-23) will face the Eagles in a consolation contest at 2 p.m.
Independent college basketball teams obviously don't play in conference tournaments, and many of them aren't eligible for NCAA post-season play.
So Longwood (8-19) has put together an end-of-season mirror event on its home court, and N.C. Central is part of it.
The Eagles (10-16), who beat the Lancers 74-66 Feb. 26 in Durham, will take them on again today at about 4:30 p.m. at Willett Hall.
That follows a 2 p.m. contest between easy tournament favorite Florida Gulf Coast (22-6) and Seattle (6-22), both of whom like NCCU are still on the reclassification track from NCAA Division II to Division I.
Championship and consolation games are on Sunday.
That won't end the season for NCCU, as the Eagles will visit UNC on March 14 in the Tar Heels' final game before their post-season tournament.
Freshman Joanna Miller (pictured) is NCCU's leading scorer.