NC State has joined Duke, UNC in women’s basketball rankings

CorrespondentJanuary 29, 2014 

It has been a long time since the Triangle’s three ACC women’s basketball teams have been this good at the same time.

For Duke and North Carolina, it isn’t 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. That’s 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 nation’s 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.

“We’ve been fortunate to inherit some talent and some veterans,” Moore said. “They’ve been very coachable and they’ve bought in. But we haven’t accomplished anything yet and we’ve 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).

“We’re 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 she’s 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 we’re focused and determined and have had some pretty darn good leadership whether it’s come from Tricia or Lex or Haley or people like that. They’re starting to step up and demand more.”

Little pressure

Liston said her class’ focus is on doing something new – like winning a regional.

“I think we’ve done a good job, but we’re not complacent,” Liston said. “We want to do more. We’ve been in this position before in the ACC. That’s a standard for us. It’s not really an accomplishment until we do something we’ve never done before.”

With little pressure this season, McDaniel said the Tar Heels are just hoping to steadily get better.

“I think we’re doing pretty well,” she said. “I’m really glad with the place we are right now as a team. We’ve 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.

“It’s exciting, and I’m expecting more wins to come,” she said. “We’re playing at a high level against great competition, and I’m 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.

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