GREENSBORO COLISEUM This is the kind of matchup that more frequently occurs in the championship game of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament, or at least in the semifinals.
Not this year.
Defending conference champion Maryland is the No. 9 seed and has already eliminated preseason conference favorite UNC in women's basketball's version of a "Group of Death."
Today's opponent is top-seeded No. 9 Duke, which has played in the last two finals and looks for its first title in six seasons and the first under Joanne P. McCallie.
Duke won both regular-season meetings - 58-57 in College Park on Jan. 24 and 71-59 at Cameron on Feb. 21, and that old adage about how tough it is to beat the same team three times in a season is at work.
It does prove to be tough, but Duke survives in the final minute to advance 66-64 and set up a semifinal meeting with Georgia Tech on Saturday.
As the final score shows, it wasn't easy from the outset.
As was the case against the Tar Heels a day earlier, the Terps come out hot.
Maryland's biggest lead is 11, at 24-13 on a jumper from Anjale Barrett with 13:24 left in the first half.
Duke responds to the adversity with a 10-2 run, tying it at 26-26 on a Bridgette Mitchell layup with 6:21 left in the half.
The Blue Devils take their biggest lead of the period at 37-31 on a pair of free throws from Joy Cheek (pictured) at the 1:42 mark.
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH - There's something fishy going on at the ol' RBC right now...like, alternate dimension fishy. Carolina won its third in a row and fourth of five, the latter two of which were on back-to-back nights with commute. In addition, Eric Staal and Ray Whitney stretched their points streaks to seven games apiece and Staal reached a nice personal and franchise milestone with his assist on the empty-netter. The 'Canes have tapped into some long-dormant potential and can't seem to stop scoring, early and often.
Now, I'm someone who doesn't mind admitting I'm wrong. It's a good skill, I think, especially when it's been known to happen. Chad LaRose is nowhere near the worst thing to happen to hockey since the "glowing puck" fiasco of the mid-90's. Getting those free agents from Boston didn't turn out to be quite the boon I thought it would be. And Staal seems quite taken with this whole captaincy thing, even though it initially appeared to be a no-win situation. The 'Canes don't seem to mind having him at the helm either. Staal scored the game's first goal off his own rebound, his eighth in five games since donning the 'C.'
And he's not the only one. From the bottom up, Carolina looks better. All of the sudden, when any hope of recovery has all but gone the way of the dodo and players are just about to start being pawned off for draft picks, someone flipped the "on" switch on the back of the 'Canes' helmets. Three straight explosive starts, 21 goals in five games, some pretty decent numbers for Ward...maybe Taylor Hall shouldn't be picking out red-and-black wallpaper just yet.
Ward says he sees the guys in front of him "making plays and not second guessing themselves."
Let's say it all together, folks: "Where has this team been all season?!" It's not a matter of players coming back or a trade shaking things up. The exact same squad that stunk to high hell a few weeks ago is now looking like its posturing for home ice advantage. Could Staal really have had that much of a difference? Naaaah. (Right?)
Ward certainly thinks so. "He's picked everyone else up. He's the leader of this team and he's playing at the top of his game right now," he said.
N.C. Central got a big game out of C.J. Wilkerson (pictured) and again put up a good fight on the road, but finished with a 70-57 loss at Youngstown State.
DeAndre Mays led the Penguins (8-12) with 17 points, followed by Sirlester Martin and Kelvin Bright with 13 points each and Vytas Sulskis 11.
Wilkerson had 26 points to lead NCCU (4-18), while Nick Chasten added 13.
The Eagles return to the Triangle for Saturday's 2 p.m. game against N.C. State before hosting their next five games.
North Carolina traveled to Raleigh to face rival N.C. State tonight, and the Tar Heels defeated the Wolfpack 77-63 in a game that State fans had every right to believe they could win despite UNC's recent dominance of the series.
The Tar Heels weathered their customary offensive woes thanks to outstanding defense, perhaps the best they’ve played in several weeks. Carolina limited the Wolfpack to 39 percent shooting, including an atrocious 29 percent in the second half.
Pre-game drama surrounded the availability of stud big man Ed Davis, who missed the Wake Forest debacle due to an injured ankle. But while Davis clearly was hobbled against the Wolfpack, he gamely suited up and contributed 12 points and nine rebounds.
Meanwhile, maligned point guard Larry Drew enjoyed what may have been his finest 40-minute performance since the Michigan State game in early December, scoring 18 points on 5-for-9 shooting and adding seven assists against only one turnover. If he consistently can play anywhere near that level, the Tar Heels’ place in the NCAA Tournament should be secure by the end of the season.
The Heels’ other primary guard, Dexter Strickland, continues to impress. He added 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and hit a couple of timely jump shots. The guards’ confidence and success handling the ball enabled the club to commit what, given the season’s results to date, might be considered a miraculously low 11 turnovers for the game.
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/CARY--Temperatures dropped below freezing Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park right around the time Brian Ownby scored a golden goal to lift the Virginia Cavaliers over Wake Forest in the semifinal of the 2009 College Cup. Three hours later, it was even colder as a diehard contingent endured 110 minutes of scoreless play between the undefeated and No. 1-ranked University of Akron and the fifth-ranked UNC Tar Heels before the Zips (23-0-1) won on penalty kicks when UNC defender Jordan Graye shanked his effort over the goal.
The night's real drama came in the sudden-death overtime of the first game between the Demon Deacons and the Cavaliers (18-3-3). The winner came in the third minute of overtime as Ownby, a sophomore from Glen Allen, Va., took a long pass from Jonathan Villanueva. Ownby, whose playing time has been limited by a hernia, beat Wake's Anthony Arena and Ike Opara, chipped the ball past Wake Forest's keeper Akira Fitzgerald and tore off his jersey on his way to embrace his teammates on the sideline.
At the center of the field, Wake Forest's senior striker Zack Schilawski stood still, stunned. Wake had equalized in the game's 70th minute on an unassisted foray by All-American midfielder Corben Bone, and the Deacons seemed to have the momentum going into overtime. Now the game was over, and Schilawski stood still for a long time, moving only when opposing players came over to console him.
It was a tough end for the Cary native's amateur career. An All-American at Cary High, he was also a member of the Cary Clarets, the team of college amateurs that plays in the USL's Player Development League (PDL).
As it happens, I witnessed one highlight of Schilawski's amateur career that's not on his online Wake Forest bio. It occurred on the same field in the summer of 2008, when his PDL team, then known as the Cary RailHawks, defeated a visiting side from the English Coca-Cola Championship, a team called Burnley FC. After Burnley struck first with a goal by midfielder Wade Elliott, Schilawski leveled after exploiting an error by Graham Alexander, then as now his team's defensive mainstay. The RailHawks clinched the game in the 76th minute on a goal by N.C. State's Tyler Lassiter, off an assist from Wake Forest's midfielder Bone.
N.C. Central will try again for an upset tonight in the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, when the Eagles take on Murray State in Miami.
LeVelle Moton's club is 0-2 in the event, losing its season opener at UNC last week before giving Subregional host Florida International fits in an 83-73 loss Friday night.
Murray State walloped James Madison 71-43 in the other Friday night game in Miami.
C.J. Wilkerson is the scoring leader for the Eagles, who will play JMU on Monday at 4 in their final game of the event.
O'KELLY-RIDDICK STADIUM/DURHAM It's the season football finale at N.C. Central, and so far the whole campaign has been a mixed bag.
NCCU went 0-6 through an extremely tough first "half" of the schedule, in which the Eagles dropped a pair of very winnable games in overtime.
Coach Mose Rison at that point set a goal of winning the last five in a row. Old Dominion derailed that idea two weeks ago, but now the idea is to win four of the last five and match last season's 4-7 finish.
The opponent is Savannah State (2-7), which is reeling with a couple of losses to teams below the Division I level. NCCU has beaten the Tigers the past two seasons, including the season-ender in Durham last year.
The home team is a solid favorite today on Senior Day, and responds with a 35-14 victory.
Syracuse erased a two-point halftime deficit to rout North Carolina in the final of the 2k Sports Classic on Friday night in New York. The Orange, which entered the game as a one-point favorite, opened the second half with a 22-to-1 scoring run that effectively decided the competition.
There were few positives to glean from this game for the Tar Heels. Carolina committed another 19 turnovers, shot an atrocious 38 percent from the field and, on defense, allowed Syracuse to hit 54 percent of its shots.
Many observers believed that on Thursday night North Carolina would experience its first defeat since last spring’s ACC Tournament, but the Tar Heels gutted out an ugly win over top-25 Ohio State in New York.
As part of the 2k Sports Classic, the Heels will play tonight in the final versus Syracuse, which routed California in a game that was expected to be much more competitive.
Against the Buckeyes, Carolina sputtered throughout the game offensively and, in a stark contrast to the Lawson/Hansbrough era, relied on its defense to keep OSU in check. The formula worked and at one point led to a 19-point lead in the second half, but the Heels missed free throws and committed costly turnovers to allow Ohio State — which had contributed to its own problems by missing some open shots — to claw its way back in.
Cetera DeGraffenreid did it all for No. 4 UNC on Wednesday night.
The junior guard had 20 points and eight assists, tying her career high with eight steals in an 88-49 win over Coastal Carolina at the Smith Center.
She'la White added 16 points for UNC (2-0), while Chay Shegog chipped in 15.
Laura Broomfield added 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for UNC.
The Tar Heels led 33-25 at halftime before breaking away over the next seven minutes.
Elizabeth Weaver's career-high 14 points to led the Chanticleers (2-1), who shot only 29 percent from the floor.
The Tar Heels' next game is on Sunday at 5 p.m. at UNLV before they return home Wednesday against Presbyterian.