CHAPEL HILL - Down the entire game, No. 1 Duke had clawed back from 17 down to within seven points of No. 2 North Carolina, 69-62, with 1:27 remaining in the game. The Blue Devils were in the midst of a 12-4 run and Monique Currie stood alone at the top of the key, wide-open for a three-pointer.
On a play that could have helped propel Duke (25-2, 12-2 in the ACC) to its first win against the Tar Heels (26-1, 13-1) in five tries and a regular-season ACC championship, Currie air-balled the shot, and any hopes of a comeback were gone as UNC defeated Duke, 77-65.
"I kept telling [my team] at halftime and at timeouts down the stretch I said, 'Hey Currie's going to get the ball, this is her team. She's going to try to carry this team in the second half,'" UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "She's an incredible player but she didn't have a good game, she missed shots she normally would make."
Currie ended the night with 13 points on a 5-for-18 shooting performance. She had the most trouble from beyond the arc, hitting just 1-of-8 shots as Duke struggled as a team from the floor the entire game.
North Carolina's defense held the Blue Devils to a season-low 14.3-percent shooting from long range and a season-low 65 points. Duke also committed 23 turnovers against just 14 assists, leading to 21 Tar Heel points.
"When you turn the ball over, they are going to make you pay for it," Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "If you turn it over 23 times they're probably going to make you pay on at least half of them and convert them into easy shots. We just didn't make good decisions with the basketball."
In stark contrast to the teams' last meeting Jan. 29, Duke struggled mightily on the boards all game as UNC consistently out-hustled the Blue Devils for rebounds. In the last meeting, Duke outrebounded the Tar Heels by 16.
But in the first half alone Saturday, the Tar Heels gathered 16 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Duke by a season-worst 10 in the game, 54-44. Hatchell said her team focused all week on rebounding, as it had been struggling recently in that area.
"I know they've been struggling with their rebounding and I think they took it out on us today," Goestenkors said. "They did a great job on the boards, especially on the offensive boards."
Duke tried to turn the game around in the final five minutes. Despite being down 15 with 4:34 to go, the Blue Devils scored eight straight points to cut the lead down to seven. Center Alison Bales, who tied a career-high with eight blocks on the night, started the run with two free throws.
Fifteen seconds later, point guard Lindsey Harding fired up the Duke team, breaking down the UNC press by herself and going coast-to-coast for an easy layin. Harding added a 10-foot jumper a minute later with 3:24 remaining to cap the run and bring the score to 65-58.
The teams traded baskets for the next minute before Currie air-balled her final three-point attempt of the night, ending any hope of a Duke comeback.
"We knew Duke was going to make a run and come back, which they did," Hatchell said. "But I thought we hung tough in there."
The loss was the Blue Devils' fifth-straight against the Tar Heels, who finished No. 1 in the ACC Regular Season with the win. The Blue Devils finished No. 2 in the ACC, ending a five-year streak of winning or tying for the title.
"We didn't play our game, didn't play, you know, I thought Duke basketball," Goestenkors said. "We'll regroup and try to get ready for the ACC tournament."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.