CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Duke was here before, carrying the No. 1 ranking onto its biggest rival's home court -- only to have North Carolina snatch it away.
Not this time. By twice turning back the Tar Heels' late comeback attempts, these determined Blue Devils wouldn't let it happen again.
Abby Waner scored six of her 16 points during the decisive second-half spurt, and top-ranked Duke held off No. 2 North Carolina 64-53 on Thursday night.
"It's a new year. It's a whole new team," Waner said. "I didn't enjoy last year's game here so much. Obviously, you think about what they brought last year, and what you'd change, but it was a whole new year."
Wanisha Smith had all 17 of her points in the first half, Lindsey Harding added 16 points and Alison Bales had 14 rebounds for the Blue Devils (25-0, 10-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Duke overcame second-half foul trouble and held off the Tar Heels at every critical juncture, improving to 8-0 against ranked teams and snapping a five-game losing streak to North Carolina -- including a surprisingly lopsided loss here last year in the first 1-2 matchup in the history of the rivalry.
"It makes us feel a little bit better about the losses we had in the past, but not much," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said.
Camille Little scored a season-high 21 points and Erlana Larkins had 14 rebounds for the Tar Heels (24-1, 8-1), but star point guard Ivory Latta finished with just nine points on 3-of-20 shooting and missed all 11 of her 3-point attempts.
"It's pretty simple -- we've just got to shoot the ball better," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "I don't know we've ever had a game ... where the rest of the team shot as poorly as we did."
North Carolina twice rallied to tie in the second half, the last coming when Alex Miller's jumper with 7:50 left made it 47-47.
Duke countered with a clinching 14-3 spurt led by Waner and Bales. Bales started the run with a wide-open layup and later added an 18-footer, and Waner then scored three straight baskets.
Her last field goal deflated the sellout crowd at Carmichael Auditorium. Waner drove toward the corner, then pulled up and knocked down a jumper, making it 57-50 with 2:40 to play.
"I thought that was the dagger," Goestenkors said.
Duke's lead grew to 61-50 on a late free throw by Bales, who overcame a rough offensive game -- finishing with just seven points -- by blocking seven shots and affecting several others.
"Offensively, she didn't score much, but defensively, she was a monster," Goestenkors said. "She changed so many shots."
Duke avenged its previous visit to Chapel Hill -- a 77-65 loss to the Tar Heels -- and earned its first victory against North Carolina in the post-Alana Beard era. The Blue Devils had won 12 straight in the series before their five-game slide.
"Everybody kept talking about 1 vs. 2," Harding said. "I kept thinking, 'We've got to get Carolina."
It was the latest into a regular season that two unbeatens met in a 1-2 matchup, and the first time it matched teams with perfect records from the same conference.
"Twenty-one years [of coaching at North Carolina], and this is what we dreamed of," Hatchell said. "I'm sorry that we didn't protect our home court."
The Blue Devils led for much of the first half, taking the lead on Harding's jumper in the lane midway through the half, which started a 10-2 spurt. Duke's lead grew to 10 in the half on Gay's jumper from the elbow that made it 29-19.
North Carolina used strong free-throw shooting to keep it close in the opening 20 minutes. The Tar Heels made up for a stretch in which they had one field goal in 9½ minutes by making 11 of 15 foul shots in the half.
The Tar Heels' shooting woes continued in the second half, and they finished 2-of-19 from 3-point range.