DURHAM, N.C. -- The message was simple.
At halftime, trailing by 13 points in a hostile environment, North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell told her team to start living up to its reputation as the most physically gifted team in the country.
"I thought the first half Duke was outplaying us," Hatchell said. "They were getting all the loose balls, all the tie-ups. They just played harder than we did in the first half, like they wanted it more. And I felt like we were backing off of them too much on defense and we don't do that.
"Our backs were against the wall and we had to produce. I think we shifted gears and moved to a higher level. It's pretty simple. Take advantage of our athleticism and our quickness."
Simply put, they out-duked Duke in the final 10 minutes of the game, overcoming a 12-point deficit down the stretch for a 74-70 win before a sellout crowd of 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday night.
In the process, the Tar Heels (20-0, 7-0 ACC) are now all alone as the nation's only unbeaten team. And what will follow is a move up one slot to the nation's No. 1 team when the new AP (Monday) and ESPN/USA Today Coaches' polls (Tuesday) are released early this week.
The contrast between the first and second halves was striking.
On its way to 40-27 first-half lead, Duke (20-1, 7-1 ACC) pounded the Heels on the boards (25-15), shut them down from the floor (38.7 percent shooting) and forced them into 12 turnovers -- which were converted into 16 Blue Devil points.
After halftime, it was another story.
UNC forward Erlana Larkins set the tone by hitting two early 3-pointers, one more than she had converted all season prior to Sunday night. That trimmed the Duke lead to eight, and it also sent a message that UNC wasn't going to wilt away like Tennessee did six days earlier in this same building.
The Blue Devils extended the lead back to 12 before Hatchell called a time out at 10:08 with Duke leading 58-46 and changed the dynamic of the game.
Shortly after the time out, Hatchell inserted sophomore guard Alex Miller, a Durham native, into the lineup, and UNC ran the Blue Devils out of their own gym.
"They went small and we didn't stop their penetration and they broke us down," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "Either the guards scored or they drew help from our post players and they just jumped it down for easy lay-ins."
The proof was that the Tar Heels went on a 16-4 run and caught Duke at 62-62 with 4:39 left, took the lead on a pair of Larkins free throws and never looked back in the game's final three minutes.
Larkins ended up with a game-high 23 points, including 17 in the second half. "We just came out and played with an intensity that we didn't have in the first half," Larkins said.
UNC scored on 14 of its last 16 possessions and dominated the second-half stats. Turnovers were 10-2 in favor of the Heels, and it was 16-0 in favor of UNC in the points-off-turnovers department.
"They played a really good game, but they played a great second half," Goestenkors said. "I thought they were the aggressor on both ends of the floor. We didn't do a good job of taking care of the basketball and we knew that was going to be a key.
"Against a great team you have to do the little things well and North Carolina made us pay for it."
The other thing that Duke paid dearly for was a 7-for-15 second-half performance at the free-throw line.
The highly anticipated point-guard battle between Duke's Lindsey Harding and North Carolina's Ivory Latta lived up to its billing as they were the only two players on the floor for the full 40 minutes.
Latta outscored Harding 17-8, but the Blue Devils' point had a game-high nine assists.
"I think the whole team came together at the end," Latta said, shortly after sending a message to the Duke crowd about which team was the new No. 1. "Defense and rebounding wins championships and we didn't play great defense in the first half. Coach got on us at halftime about that and we came out with the big win.
"I always love playing in this place, especially with the crowd."
The Heels have a few days to enjoy their new position on top of women's basketball, but seven ACC games remain, including a rematch with Duke on Feb. 25 in Chapel Hill. North Carolina has won four straight in the series.
"This is nice, but I'd like to have it the last game of the season," Hatchell said. "It happened to me one time before and there's nothing any sweeter than that.
"We're proud of the game and where we are, but we can't let down in any way, shape or form. We've got that big zero, I mean that big bull's-eye on our backs and everybody's coming after us."
That's another simple message to comprehend.
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.