The last time North Carolina traveled to Durham, tents were pitched in Goestenkorsopolis, Duke was undefeated and those signature campus benches were kindling-in-the-making.
A lot has changed since that 67-62 Duke victory last March.
Head coach Gail Goestenkors left for Texas. In her place, Joanne P. McCallie came from Michigan State. National Player of the Year Lindsey Harding and 6-foot-7 Alison Bales moved on to the WNBA. In their place, junior Chante Black, finally healthy, has emerged as Duke's top player.
And when the third-ranked Tar Heels (19-2, 6-0 in the ACC) prepare for a 7 p.m. tip tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium, it will be the first time in 18 contests in which the team will take on a Duke squad not ranked in the top five.
But the No. 9 Blue Devils-who already have upset then-No. 3 Rutgers Dec. 6 and fell to Tennessee by three points Jan. 28-are still primed to take on their Tobacco Road rivals.
"It's special," McCallie said of her first Duke-UNC game. "The ACC is the best conference. I just love it. I don't know how else to say it-I just love games like that, whether it's Tennessee or North Carolina or any of those games because it just seems to bring the best out in everybody."
Duke will need to be at its best to take down a Tar Heel squad that leads the nation in scoring, steals and blocked shots.
Yet McCallie believes the most important battle between these two physical teams will be on the glass. In its recent matchup with Tennessee, Duke was outrebounded 40-29, with the team's leading rebounder, Black, accounting for only two of those.
With the dynamic UNC frountcourt tandem of senior Erlana Larkins and junior Rashanda McCants, the Blue Devils will need to be more assertive under the basket if they are to pull off the upset they came just short of against the Lady Vols.
"It's going to be a board game without question-a very physical, athletic game," McCallie said. "A lot of shots are going to go up, that's for sure, it's just who's going to get the second and third shot opportunities.
"Somehow, in those games, it always ends up who hits who first, and who gets more attempts."
Larkins and McCants enter tonight's game averaging a collective 29 points and 16 rebounds per outing, but should be matched by Duke's Black and sophomore Joy Cheek, who is coming off her first double-digit scoring effort in five games in Duke's 85-50 victory over Virginia Tech Friday in Cameron.
Another boost Friday night came from Duke's bench, which registered 35 of the Blue Devils' 50 rebounds and outscored the Hokies 37-13. Particularly with the recent scoring woes of junior Abby Waner, such production from non-starters could prove essential in the type of emotional and physical game that usually plays out when these two nemeses hit the court.
"Of all the great rivalries in sports, Carolina-Duke is one of the best," said Waner, who scored 29 points in two games against UNC last year. "Our two programs have been very successful in the past and they're playing very well this season, too. It's going to be a great matchup. We love having these kind of games-Tennessee last week, North Carolina Monday. It's really exciting for just the game in general."
A win tonight could be the kind of confidence booster Duke needs as it heads into the closing stretch of its ACC slate.
And it might also light a fire under these Blue Devils, a team certainly looking for a spark.
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