UNC looks to end Duke's perfect season Sunday
Two weeks ago, North Carolina scored by far its fewest points of the season -- 53 -- in a loss to Duke. The Tar Heels didn't spend a whole lot of time afterward publicly dissecting why.
You could sum up their post-game comments in pretty much one sentence: "We didn't make shots."
The next day, North Carolina's Erlana Larkins spoke before practice about there being a "lid on the basket" but then, with a smile, added, "And Duke had something to do with that."
When it comes to Tar Heels talking about Blue Devils, that rates as eloquent and copious praise. There's no rose-throwing in this series, of course, which is part of the fun.
When they met at sold-out Carmichael Auditorium on Feb. 8, both were undefeated and it was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. First place in the ACC was still up for grabs.
Now, here we go again. But Sunday in their regular-season finale at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, it's a little different scenario. The Blue Devils are still No. 1, having beaten defending national champion Maryland for a second time this season.
Meanwhile, Carolina picked up a second loss on one of the most memorable nights in ACC history, as Kay Yow Court was dedicated at Reynolds Coliseum and North Carolina State pulled an upset. The emotion that lifted the Wolfpack swamped the Tar Heels, yet they still battled back and almost made an unbelievable escape.
Now, whatever happens Sunday has no effect on the ACC tournament seeds; Duke wrapped up No. 1 with its victory last Sunday against the Terps, and the Tar Heels already have claimed No. 2.
What is on the line is Duke's perfect record, but that certainly wasn't one of the Blue Devils' season goals. A loss -- especially to Carolina, at home and on senior day for Lindsey Harding and Alison Bales -- would sting for the Blue Devils but not necessarily do any significant damage.
What's most important is NCAA Tournament positioning and the geographical advantage -- meaning a No. 1 seed in the Greensboro Regional -- that should be awarded to the ACC's top dog, whomever that turns out to be.
Duke looks in the driver's seat now, obviously, but the Blue Devils know that a loss to Carolina on Sunday and a subsequent defeat in the ACC tournament just might take away the major perk they've worked all season to get.
If the dominoes keep falling Duke's way, though, the Blue Devils could have the chance to stay in the state of North Carolina until the Final Four -- with the ACC tournament and regional in Greensboro and an early-round placement in Raleigh.
That might be in the back of the Blue Devils' minds, but at the forefront is just one thing: Carolina. The victory earlier this month in Chapel Hill broke what had been a five-game losing streak to the Tar Heels.
Duke coach Gail Goestenkors was not happy about having a mid-week bye in this final stanza of the regular season. She's concerned about how the schedule leaves her team with just a maximum of four games in the month leading into the NCAA Tournament. And it could be fewer if Duke is upset before the ACC tournament final.
There's nothing the Blue Devils can do about that, though, so they have to focus on staying as sharp as possible in practice. And Duke is a team you can tell usually makes the most of it preparation time. In the second game against Maryland this season, Duke -- and Harding in particular -- showed that a slightly altered plan of attack could be just as effective as the strategy in the first meeting. Now Duke hopes it can display the same thing against North Carolina.
On the defensive end, Duke knows how effective it was in Chapel Hill but, still, the Blue Devils won't expect the Tar Heels to be so off-target again. Take away Camille Little's 8-of-13 night against Duke -- by the way, Little is having a very strong senior year -- and the rest of the Tar Heel starters were 7-for-46.
Larkins was 1-of-8 from the field and 2-for-8 from the foul line in that game; for the season, though, she is shooting 55.7 percent from the field and 68.2 from the line. Latta was 3-of-20, missing all 11 of her 3-point attempts. Subtract that night, and Latta's 3-point percentage for this season would be 43.4. As it is, it's 41.1.
Ultimately, the Tar Heels were not themselves that night against Duke. But who has been when facing the Blue Devils this season?Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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