New life for the Blue Devils? Duke rolling into ACC tourney after win over UNC

Duke’s Jade Williams and Coach Joanne McCallie talk altercation during UNC game

UNC forward Janelle Bailey was disqualified late in the game for going after Duke forward Jade Williams. Williams said the team is just focused on getting better.
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UNC forward Janelle Bailey was disqualified late in the game for going after Duke forward Jade Williams. Williams said the team is just focused on getting better.

Duke closed out the regular season with its third straight win, 62-44 over North Carolina on Sunday, and the Blue Devils will look for new life in the ACC women’s tournament.

Duke (14-14, 6-10 ACC) hopes to prove its regular-season record isn’t a true reflection of the type of team it is. The Blue Devils certainly convinced Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell.

“They had only won five conference games,” Hatchell pointed out, “but they are a very good team, especially when they play us.”

There is some truth to that. With the win, Duke has now taken 10 of the last 11 games against UNC (17-13, 8-8), and five in a row in Cameron. The Blue Devils won 85-69 in Chapel Hill on Feb. 7. The Tar Heels, who will take on Georgia Tech on Thursday (2 p.m.) at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, were without guard Paris Kea in the first match up and were missing Stephanie Watts in the rematch, then saw Janelle Bailey ejected after a fourth-quarter altercation Sunday.

With Kea (16 points) and Leah Church (12 points) forced to carry the load and log heavy minutes in Hatchell’s six-player rotation, the Blue Devils held UNC to a season-low 44 points. Duke had three players record triple-doubles, the first time that’s happened since Jan. 25, 2015, also in a win over UNC.

Leaonna Odom led the way with 22 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Jade Williams finished with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and Haley Gorecki added 11 points and 10 rebounds for Duke, who will enter the ACC Tournament as the No. 11th seed and will take on No. 14 Pitt (11-19, 2-14) at 6:30 PM on Wednesday.

Not that seeding matters to Blue Devils coach Joanne McCallie.

“It’s up to us to get better,” McCallie said. “The thing about the tournament is that all records are gone, everything is gone. A tournament is about finding ways to play your best basketball, regardless of who you play and marching forward, so that’s the experience we are going to focus on, but we have to get better from this game.”

Duke pulled down a season-high 53 rebounds and held the Tar Heels to seven points in the fourth quarter. North Carolina pulled to within nine, 53-44, after a three from Kea with 6:43 remaining, but missed its next nine shots. Duke only connected on two field goals the rest of the way, but locked in on defense after North Carolina cut the lead to single digits.

“We just needed to refocus,” Williams said. “When they started to score, we just needed to bunker down and talk to one another and say ‘This is not happening, let’s step it up on defense.’ I thought we did that.”

The Tar Heels shot 27.9 percent from the field, and only three players - Church, Kea and Janelle Bailey - made a field goal for UNC in the first half.

By halftime, the Blue Devils led by 14 after shooting 53.3 percent from the field in the second quarter and went up by 20 midway through the third.

UNC held Duke freshman sharpshooter Miela Goodchild to just two points, but didn’t have an answer for the combination of Odom, Williams and Gorecki.

The last time the two teams met Bailey led the Tar Heels with 23 points, but was held to 8 on Sunday.

“I thought our defense was phenomenal today,” Williams said. “That was the emphasis we wanted to force her (Bailey) middle and we ended up not letting her get the ball—period—I felt like as much as she did last game. So, I’m proud of us taking her out of the game.”

Bailey was ejected in the fourth quarter after Williams and Church got tangled up under the UNC basket. Bailey had to be restrained, first by her teammates, then by officials before she was tossed from the game.

“I don’t really know what happened out there,” Hatchell said. “I’ll have to look at it, there was no hitting or anything like that, as far as I know. But we are working with Janelle, she’s gotten a lot better.”

Duke’s play the last three weeks - wins over Wake Forest, Clemson and North Carolina - has the Blue Devils riding high into the conference tournament. It’s a far cry from the Duke team that went on a five-game losing streak in January, but have managed to string together three straight wins for the first time this year.

“The thing about it is, we’ve been getting better all season,” McCallie said. “A lot of these games could have turned the other way. I feel like we’ve been getting better for a long time, it shows up now with more (wins) and that’s great, we want those. But it’s been a process. Believe me, we want everything back that we did not get.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.