GREENSBORO — Its hard to believe that three weeks ago, freshman Alexis Jones was kind of the fifth starter for Duke.
But ever since regular point guard Chelsea Gray went down with a torn MCL three weeks ago against Wake Forest and Coach Joanne P. McCallie handed her the ball, the youngster has taken the opportunity and run with it.
On Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum Jones had her season high of 24 points, the same as teammate Elizabeth Williams, as the Blue Devils ripped archrival UNC 92-73 to win their third ACC Womens Basketball Tournament in four years. Jones performance earned her MVP of the tournament.
Duke has won eight ACC Womens Tournaments total, all since 2000 in Greensboro.
The victory, top-seeded Dukes third over the No. 3 seed Tar Heels this season, of course earned the Blue Devils an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The sixth-ranked Blue Devils (30-2) will be at Cameron Indoor Stadium for a first-round game on March 24 with the second round in Cameron two nights later.
Williams broke an ACC record with the first of her two blocks in her 65th consecutive game. Haley Peters added 17 points for the Blue Devils.
Im just really proud of this team and their fight and resilience, McCallie said. As weve come along here in our new season of getting to know each other (since Grays injury), these three games were extremely valuable for our team to get better. We did, and it was an awful lot of fun.
Alexis just continues to grow. She has a really, really great sense of the game and she enjoys her teammates very much. Her poise is incredible, and her willingness to listen is really amazing.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led the Tar Heels with 25 points, all in the second half, followed by Latifah Coleman and Waltiea Rolle with 10 each. It was only the third double-figure game of the sophomore Colemans career after her 17-point explosion against Maryland on Saturday.
UNC, ranked No. 15, will certainly receive an NCAA at-large bid after missing last seasons NCAA Tournament.
Im very proud of my team, UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. We battled hard. When the season started we were picked by the media fifth in the conference and we werent even ranked in the country. I said we were underrated and that we would be very hard to play against.
Dukes a great team and I dont know how much better they could have played than they did today. From what I can see, theyre probably a better team with Alexis Jones out there than they were with Chelsea Gray.
Peters and Williams joined Jones on the all-tourney first team along with Ruffin-Pratt and Marylands Alyssa Thomas. Dukes Tricia Liston was on the second team along with Coleman, Rolle, Marylands Tianna Hawkins and Wake Forests Chelsea Douglas.
Jones had eight assists in the title game and was nine-for-16 from the floor. She had 53 points and 23 assists in the tournament.
I think this is a good opportunity for my career playing for Duke, Jones said about starting at the point. Its a good opportunity to get the start on freshmen who are probably not getting to play this year. So its really just a blessing for me right now.
My teammates are always talking to me, telling me exactly what needs to be done. We feed off each other, and we learn every time we play with each other. And I think we played good team ball all the time.
The Blue Devils led 39-24 at halftime and never let the Tar Heels any closer after the break.
Ruffin-Pratt, who was 0-for-3 with two fouls in the first half, finished 8-for-18 from the floor and 8-for-9 from the line.
In the second half we had to get points on the board, Ruffin-Pratt said. In the first half I sat out a lot because I was in foul trouble. I had to come out and take over and help get my team as close as I could. I had to play more cautious because they were calling offensive fouls driving to the basket.
Duke shot 56.9 percent to the Tar Heels' 30.0 for the game and won the rebound battle 39-33.
Duke has now won seven straight in the series including both regular-season meetings, destroying the Tar Heels 84-63 on Feb. 3 at Carmichael but winning only 65-58 a week ago at Cameron.