Freshman Alexis Jones sets up, leads Duke women past UNC

CorrespondentMarch 3, 2013 

— Alexis Jones had to fill some big shoes when Duke’s starting point guard Chelsea Gray was lost for the season with a knee injury.

After two weeks, those shoes are starting to fit the freshman pretty well.

Jones led all scorers with a season-high 22 points including 11 of 12 from the free-throw line, pacing the fifth-ranked Blue Devils to a hard-fought 65-58 win Sunday against No. 15 UNC at a sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The next game for ACC regular-season champion Duke (27-2, 17-1 ACC) will be Friday at 2 p.m. against either No. 8 seed N.C. State or No. 9 seed Clemson in the second round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro. UNC (26-5, 14-4), which lost a coin flip to Maryland and has the No. 3 seed, will play No. 6 seed Virginia or No. 11 seed Boston College in the second round on Friday at 8.

For Duke, which beat the Tar Heels 84-63 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 3, Sunday’s game was a chance to wash away the taste of Thursday’s 69-65 loss at Miami.

“I’m just really proud of our team and the fight, particularly in the second half,” said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose team is regular-season champion for the fourth straight year. “It was sort of a very physical game on both sides.

“It was great to see Alexis play that way today. She’s a very, very talented player. She’s one of the very best and certainly one of the best freshmen in the country, but also one of the best guards in the (ACC).”

Elizabeth Williams led the Blue Devils with 13 points, followed by Haley Peters with 10. Duke’s senior center Allison Vernerey got the start and scored four points with six rebounds and two blocks in 16 minutes on Senior Day.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led UNC with 16 points, while Krista Gross added 10 with a game-high 12 rebounds for the senior’s third double-double of the year and 10th of her career.

Each team forced the other into plenty of mistakes. Duke shot 37.7 percent from the floor to the Tar Heels’ 29.7. UNC won the rebound battle 48-47 and committed 22 turnovers to Duke’s 29. But the Blue Devils were 23-for-30 from the free-throw line to the Tar Heels’ icy 9-for-21 effort.

“I look at the stat sheet and see all these categories where we beat them or were ahead of them,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “So if we could make some foul shots that would help. We wanted to hold their 3-point shots down, and they hit two. We wanted them to turn the ball over, and they had 29.

“I see a lot of good things here, and we’ll build off this and get ready for the ACC Tournament.”

Duke led by as many as 12 points in the first half, going up 22-10 on a pair of Jones’ free throws with 6:08 left in the half.

“I’m pretty comfortable in the offense we’ve been playing,” Jones said. “We’ve played (four) games without Chelsea now so I’m pretty comfortable and fluid. Chelsea is like a big sister to me, so during timeouts, she says, ‘OK Alexis, I see this and this,’ and I just listen to her and feed off the energy.”

The Tar Heels followed with a long run spanning the break, leading 32-26 on a Brittany Rountree 3-pointer from Ruffin-Pratt with 18:52 to go.

“I thought our effort was great,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “I’m really proud of my team. We fought to the end and – like Coach said – we won all the categories we wanted to win in except for points. I think we did a pretty good job.”

After the run, the visitors’ offense fell apart as the Tar Heels missed 19 straight field-goal attempts. Duke took a 48-34 lead on Tricia Liston’s 3-pointer with 9:41 left. UNC’s closest approach after that was six points on Xylina McDaniel’s layup to make it 50-44 with 3:03 to go.

Williams was much more effective than the Tar Heels’ front line, as center Waltiea Rolle had nine points and fouled out with 5:34 left, and McDaniel, a freshman, finished with three points and six turnovers.

“They’re good players, athletic and can block shots,” Williams said of Rolle and McDaniel. “So I just tried to get my body into them and get them into foul trouble.”

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