Save the best for last.
That’s what the schedule dictated for Duke when it drew North Carolina for the final game on its regular-season schedule. The No. 10 Blue Devils—who have struggled in their past four games—will look to head into the postseason on a high note when they take the short ride down Tobacco Road to face the No. 3 Tar Heels Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Kenan Stadium.
“What we’re searching for is a consistency in our performance,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “For a couple of games, our defense was not steady. We felt like last weekend we were better defensively but we committed 20 turnovers. That can’t happen against ACC teams.”
After reeling off a four straight wins during the middle of the season, the Blue Devils (8-6, 2-4 in the ACC) have won just one of their past four contests, including back-to-back two-goal losses to No. 5 Boston College and No. 11 Notre Dame.
Although Duke has shown it has the talent to make some noise in the postseason, it will have to focus its attention on a talented Tar Heel squad and step up its game-to-game consistency if it wants to end the season with any sort of momentum.
“I’m excited for us and what we’re trying to do right now,” Kimel said. “[We] just work honestly on our confidence, work on prep work for North Carolina and just try to get ourself back on track in all aspects of our game.”
The Tar Heels (12-2, 4-1) started the season as one of the hottest teams in the nation, reeling off 11 straight victories. But like the Blue Devils, North Carolina has experienced struggles of its own. The Tar Heels have won just two of their past four games, including a loss to Northwestern in which they scored a season-low five goals.
Despite a poor offensive showing against the Wildcats, North Carolina still averages a scorching 16.71 tallies per game, which ranks tops in the nation by nearly a full goal. Led by senior Abbey Friend, who ranks second in the ACC in goals per game with 3.43, the Tar Heels’ high-octane attack will look to exploit a Blue Devil defense that ranks in the bottom third of the ACC in goals allowed.
“Carolina is obviously a very good team,” Kimel said. “They’re a high-powered offense. For us, our main focus for tomorrow night is going into the game prepared to fight hard for however long it takes.”
For the Blue Devil seniors, revenge will be a driving factor, as they will look to avenge last season’s 12-11 overtime loss in their final contest against their local rival.
Although a win against at a rival top-three team’s stadium would be a nice way to end the season, Duke needs a victory Wednesday night for more reasons than just revenge and rivalry. A win at Chapel Hill would give the Blue Devils a much-needed boost as it looks ahead to the ACC tournament scheduled for next weekend.
Playing in a conference tournament field that boasts seven top-20 teams, Duke’s seeding could be crucial to postseason success.
“You have to use the postseason as a motivating factor at this point [but] not necessarily a focus,” Kimel said. “The division we’re in, we don’t feel like postseason play is a guarantee.”
Following Wednesday’s game, Duke will have more than a week to rest its players and prepare for its ACC tournament opener next Thursday in Chestnut Hill, Mass.