CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Waltiea Rolle saw Duke's Chelsea Gray sprinting her way in transition for a shot that could force North Carolina into overtime.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore stood her ground, extended her left arm and knocked Gray's leaning drive harmlessly away. The horn sounded a second later, sending Rolle and her North Carolina teammates into an oncourt celebration of a victory that kept them in the Atlantic Coast Conference race.
Rolle had the go-ahead three-point play with 3:20 to go and that game-saving block to help the Tar Heels (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) beat the fifth-ranked Blue Devils 62-60 on Monday.
Italee Lucas scored 17 points to lead the Tar Heels (21-3, 7-2 ACC), who fought through a tough and often ugly rivalry game before holding on to win in a thrilling finish. It also kept the Blue Devils (21-2, 7-1) from running out too far ahead in the league standings, where North Carolina is tied with No. 19 Florida State for second.
The Tar Heels have won four straight games since a 23-point loss at Maryland, which coach Sylvia Hatchell said coincided with altering practice drills while adding team-building exercises in an effort to improve the players' accountability.
"When you win a championship, it's about what you give, not what you get," Hatchell said. "I preach that to them every day -- give, give, give, give, give, and it will come back to you 10 times, and this is a perfect example. ... They're playing hard and they've really bonded together these last few weeks, and it shows."
Maybe that explains how North Carolina pulled this one out despite shooting a woeful 7-for-18 from the free throw line while being outrebounded 44-38. Then there was the matter of failing to close out a game that seemed under control after a late surge.
And yet, it was Duke's Joanne P. McCallie lamenting her team's play down the stretch -- particularly after Rolle and Jessica Breland had back-to-back three-point plays to take back the lead after Duke went ahead 56-54 on Gray's layup with 3 1/2 minutes left.
"A good learning experience for our team to understand what it takes to play on the road and demand of each other," McCallie said. "I like that we won the rebounding battle, but we didn't win the battle of being smart. ... It's one thing to let a team score. It's another thing to foul them on top of that and provide a free-throw opportunity."
The Blue Devils' last win here came in a 1-versus-2 game almost exactly four years ago under Gail Goestenkors, who left after that season to take over at Texas. Duke lost by 31 points in McCallie's first trip to Chapel Hill, then by 15 in her second. Last year, the Blue Devils arrived with a chance to wrap up the ACC regular-season crown outright against a flailing team that had lost seven of eight -- including a 28-point loss in Durham -- but shot 26 percent and lost by 10.
This time, at least, they had the ball with a chance to force overtime or win.
Gray, a freshman, rebounded a missed jumper from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt with about 6 seconds left, then raced upcourt and tried to force up a leaning layup against Rolle.
"I was just helping, waiting for her to get there," Rolle said. "I saw her coming, so I just blocked it."
Gray said she should have kicked the ball to a teammate, although McCallie was OK with the final shot.
"They were completely on their heels and completely reliant on that play, obviously, that was made," McCallie said. "I thought we had it, to be honest with you."
Rolle finished with 10 points and nine rebounds, and matched her career high with seven blocks. She also had a key block on a drive from Gray with less than 2 minutes left, and assisted on Breland's three-point play that made it 60-56 with 2:42 left.
"When we recruited her, she was pretty raw but she's worked really hard," Hatchell said. "She has great timing. She just works hard in practice, and she's just getting better and better around the basket."
Jasmine Thomas hit a 3-pointer to make it 62-60 with 37 seconds left to keep the Blue Devils in it, though they couldn't quite complete the late comeback. Gray finished with a season-high 20 points, while Thomas had 18 as Duke shot just 35 percent.
Duke has lost two of three -- the other was a blowout loss at Connecticut -- after a 20-0 start.
"Our team's just got to change," Thomas said. "I feel that you can't keep coming out and saying your team's not playing with enough heart, you're not fighting enough. That's something you shouldn't have to coach, you shouldn't have to demand from a team."