No easy task for Duke, UNC

Challenges await the contenders

Staff WriterMarch 15, 2011 

If the Duke and North Carolina women's basketball teams want to hoist a national title trophy, both have some heavy lifting to do as the programs enter the NCAA tournament.

Duke (29-3) faces No. 15 Tennessee-Martin in the first round, yet its path to the Final Four might go through No. 1 seed Connecticut in the Philadelphia regional.

If the higher seeds hold in the Philadelphia bracket, the Blue Devils would need to defeat Tennessee-Martin, No. 7 Iowa State (22-10), No. 3 DePaul (27-6) and No. 1 Connecticut (32-1).

"I think Duke has the toughest path because of styles of play," TV analyst Debbie Antonelli said.

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said her team must take it one game at a time and get after teams. The Blue Devils have played one of the toughest schedules in the country - facing seven ranked teams - and must rely on that experience to carry them to the Final Four at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on April 3-5.

Still, they would need to knock off a UConn team that has hurdled every opponent but Stanford. The Huskies crushed the Devils 87-51 on Jan. 31.

"It would be a tremendous opportunity to play them again," McCallie said of the Huskies. "But it's so far away. If you look at our region, that would be really silly of us to even comment or think about. Just because there are so many really good teams. ... It's a very challenging region."

In the Spokane region, the Tar Heels likely would need to defeat No. 12 Fresno State (25-7), No. 4 Kentucky (24-8) and No. 1 Stanford (29-2) to make it to the Final Four.

"I will pick North Carolina to upset Kentucky," Antonelli said. "I think Kentucky has no size. Victoria Dunlap is a great player, but with Carolina they are going to throw it inside. That matchup for Kentucky is not good."

The Heels, though, will be on the road throughout this tournament.

Antonelli said it's hard to determine which UNC team will show up. She said if the disciplined one that moved through the ACC tournament comes to play, they have a chance to overcome Stanford. Fatigue, she said, could be a factor in that matchup.

"We're ready to get the tournament started," UNC senior Jessica Breland said. "Seeing our name up there, it lets you set a road map in your mind, so you know who you're playing and you can start preparing mentally. We don't know much about Fresno State yet, but we know we're going to go out there and play how we play, which is to play Carolina basketball."

robinson@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4781

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