It has been a long time since the Triangles three ACC womens basketball teams have been this good at the same time.
For Duke and North Carolina, it isnt much of a surprise. But N.C. State has had a big turnaround.
The Wolfpack, ranked No. 18 under new coach Wes Moore, improved to 18-3 (5-2 ACC) with an 80-73 road win Sunday against a good Georgia Tech team. Thats one more win than N.C. State ranked this season for the first time since 2007 had all of last season, with at least 10 games to play.
Duke (20-1, 7-0), which has lost only to defending NCAA champion No. 1 Connecticut, is on a 10-game win streak and ranked No. 3. UNC (17-3, 5-1), which has won five straight, is ranked No. 6 as the nations top freshman class is living up to its preseason billing.
The last time all three teams were ranked among the top 20 during the season was in 2006-07.
UNC regularly starts four freshmen and a sophomore without a senior on the roster. The Blue Devils whose No. 1 recruiting class of 2010 has played in three straight Elite Eights have five seniors and N.C. State has six.
All three teams will get tough tests Thursday night in ACC action. N.C. State will host No. 8 Maryland (16-3, 4-2) at 7 p.m. at Reynolds Coliseum. UNC will square off with Syracuse (15-5, 4-3) and freshman sisters Briana and Bria Day of Millbrook High at 7 p.m. at Carmichael Arena. Duke will travel for a 7 p.m. game at Miami (11-9, 3-4), which upset the Blue Devils in their most recent meeting last season.
Moore (576-172), a former Wolfpack assistant under the late Kay Yow who was at Chattanooga for the past 15 seasons, said that experienced talent is a key reason his team has been so successful.
Three seniors center Markeisha Gatling (16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds), forward Kody Burke (15.2, 6.1) and guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman (10.3 ppg) lead the scoring.
Weve been fortunate to inherit some talent and some veterans, Moore said. Theyve been very coachable and theyve bought in. But we havent accomplished anything yet and weve got a lot of work to do.
Not easy for Duke, UNC
UNC and Duke have faced some unforeseen difficulties.
Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell was diagnosed with leukemia just days before practice began, and longtime assistant Andrew Calder has been directing the Tar Heels from the sidelines. Hatchell recently was declared cancer-free but is still undergoing treatments, although she often is at practice. She will not return to her full duties for at least another month.
Freshman guard Diamond DeShields (16.3 points, 5.1 rebounds) leads the Tar Heels scoring, followed by freshman guard Allisha Gray (13.8, 5.0), freshman forward Stephanie Mavunga (12.7, 9.7) and sophomore forward Xylina McDaniel (12.4, 6.0).
Were talented and that always helps, Calder said. We have a very high basketball IQ team also. (Hatchell) has been tremendous. One of her greatest strengths is her ability to motivate and build a team and shes done a lot of that.
At Duke, senior guard Chelsea Gray was lost for the season and apparently for her college career when she broke her right kneecap Jan. 12 against Boston College. Gray had her junior season end when she dislocated the same kneecap last Feb. 14.
Senior guard Tricia Liston (17.9 points, 5.8 rebounds) leads the Blue Devils, followed by junior center Elizabeth Williams (14.0, 6.9), sophomore guard Alexis Jones (12.4, 4.3) and senior wing Haley Peters (11.9, 7.8).
We were dealt such a severe blow with the loss of Chelsea, coach Joanne P. McCallie said. I think were focused and determined and have had some pretty darn good leadership whether its come from Tricia or Lex or Haley or people like that. Theyre starting to step up and demand more.
Liston said her class focus is on doing something new like winning a regional.
I think weve done a good job, but were not complacent, Liston said. We want to do more. Weve been in this position before in the ACC. Thats a standard for us. Its not really an accomplishment until we do something weve never done before.
With little pressure this season, McDaniel said the Tar Heels are just hoping to steadily get better.
I think were doing pretty well, she said. Im really glad with the place we are right now as a team. Weve had time to develop and mature before the second half of the season, which is the hardest part.
Burke said the Wolfpack seniors are particularly hungry.
Its exciting, and Im expecting more wins to come, she said. Were playing at a high level against great competition, and Im looking forward to the rest of the season.
Only two of the teams have met this season, with UNC beating N.C. State 79-70 on Jan. 9 in Chapel Hill.
Duke will host UNC on Feb. 10, N.C. State will host UNC on Feb. 16, Duke will hostN.C. State on Feb. 20 and UNC will host Duke on March 2.
The ACC tournament will be in Greensboro March 5-9. Duke will host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games March 22 and 24 and UNC also will host the first two NCAA rounds March 23 and 25.