Although they have already clinched the No. 2 seed in the upcoming ACC tournament, the Blue Devils still have a lot to play for Sunday—mainly revenge against their arch rival.
No. 7 Duke will take on No. 14 North Carolina Sunday at 1 p.m. at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill in its final regular season contest. The Blue Devils will be looking to reassert their dominance against the Tar Heels after falling 89-78 at home to North Carolina Feb. 10. The loss ended Duke’s seven-game winning streak against the Tar Heels and was the first time the Blue Devils lost at home to North Carolina since 2008.
Although Duke is missing its three best ball handlers—Chelsea Gray, Alexis Jones and Chloe Wells—due to injuries and suspensions, the Blue Devils will be more focused on their defensive effort Sunday. In the first meeting, Duke allowed the Tar Heels to shoot 51.5 percent from the field sparked by freshman guards Diamond DeShields and Allisha Gray—who combined for 54 points.
“Obviously, we did not play well at all defensively against them last time,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “[But] it’s a new season and it’s a completely different team. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage.”
Due to their slew of injuries, the Blue Devils (25-4, 12-3 in the ACC) will feature a bigger lineup the rest of the season. Senior Haley Peters—who normally plays power forward—will spend much more time on the perimeter, giving Duke a new look defensively.
The Blue Devils will have three players on the court that are 6-foot-3 or taller at all times, meaning Duke’s ability to use its increased length to contest North Carolina’s perimeter shots and rebound in its zone defenses will be one of the deciding factors of Sunday’s game.
The Tar Heels (21-8, 9-6 in the ACC) made 12 3-pointers in the first matchup, highlighted by DeShields’ five treys.
“I think using the length and being aggressive, but smart with shutting down gaps and playing players better in regard to their strength or weakness [will be key],” McCallie said. “Our IQ defensively is going to be important for us, and without question our rebounding. We need to use our length and our strength.”
Although they looked like one of the most dangerous teams in the nation against Duke three weeks ago, the Tar Heels enter their second clash with the Blue Devils on another losing streak. North Carolina entered Cameron Indoor Stadium losers of three straight games and will take the floor Sunday after dropping a 50-47 contest to Virginia Tech and losing 100-75 at No. 2 Notre Dame.
Both the Hokies and the Fighting Irish were able to do something that Duke was not able to in the first meeting—force North Carolina to play against a set halfcourt defense. The Tar Heels shot just 26.8 percent against Virginia Tech and 39.4 percent against Notre Dame, but Duke knows all too well how streaky North Carolina can be with its shooting.
“I think we have to have composure—they’re very streaky,” McCallie said. “[It can be] made-three, air-ball, [then] made-three, air-ball [so] I think the key is having 40-minute composure about the game and really dictating the tempo.”
Duke will have to limit turnovers and rebound effectively to replicate the defensive success of other ACC teams, and All-American center Elizabeth Williams could play a major role in both areas. The junior had a career-high 28 points in the first matchup to give the Blue Devils a 44-26 edge in points in the paint.
For the Blue Devils to truly dictate the tempo, Peters, redshirt freshman Amber Henson and freshmen Oderah Chidom and Kendall McCravey-Cooper have to provide support for Williams inside—especially on the offensive glass.
Chidom grabbed eight offensive rebounds Thursday against Wake Forest, but Duke is still seeking improvement as a team in the rebounding department.
“They’re a transition team, and they’re very good at it,” McCallie said. “[Offensive] boards are a way to control the tempo and control the ball, so we really need to get aggressive there. We need to have more attack on the glass.”
Duke has shown the ability to perform well on the glass and in other areas in spurts this season, but the Blue Devils are looking for more 40-minute consistency as the season concludes. The Tar Heels were able to take advantage of Duke’s late lapses to pull off the upset in the last meeting—the Blue Devils want to make sure those lapses are absent the rest of the season.
“This is an endurance contest,” McCallie said. “You have to continue to play, and play through [adversity], and we didn’t do that very much. We played soft last time we played them—we didn’t play through things. We’ve got great talent, but the most important part is to play together. We’ve really got to stick together like glue.”