As North Carolina forward Janelle Bailey tried to push her way through teammates and officials to confront Jade Williams late in Sunday’s game between the two arch rivals, the whole day was summed up in one word. Aggression.
Determined play is what Williams and the rest of the Blue Devils brought consistently throughout their 62-44 win, bringing Duke a sweep of the season series and pushing its record back to .500.
“Well, intensity is wonderful thing. Immediacy, intensity, loving the game, passion,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie emphasized. “That’s all very, very important in life and something we want to have all the time. There’re just some things that need to go with that, and poise is one of them. I’m very proud of our team. I think we play hard and aggressive.”
Williams poured in a career day for Duke, notching her second-career double-double, one of three by Blue Devils on the day. Her 13 rebounds, to go along with 15 points, were a career high, and the sophomore capitalized on her many opportunities in the post, going 7-of-12 from the field with Duke’s guards looking to pound the ball inside.
“I think our whole team has had to adjust this season and Coach mentioned we’ve had a lot of adversity so it’s not really a personal thing,” Williams said on her role. “I just have to do what I have to do out there. They needed me to score tonight so I did that. [Leaonna Odom] had an excellent game at point guard and everybody’s just having to do new things and step up to the plate.”
Williams’ impressive play must have gotten inside Bailey’s head, as commotion ensued late in the game with Duke holding a 14-point lead. With just under three minutes to play, Tar Heel guard Leah Church and Williams battled for a rebound, leading to a jump ball. Both players continued to battle for the ball after the whistle, and Bailey ran across the court to confront the Duke forward.
“One of things Coach Hatchell says is to play through the whistle, hand the ball to the ref,” Church said. “That’s just what I was just trying to do, just to do my part. I didn’t hear any words, but I know Janelle was trying to come to my defense. I don’t know if she heard something.”
Words were exchanged between the two and Bailey charged at Williams. She could only watch her counterpart wave goodbye as she was given a technical foul and ejected from the game.
The skirmish didn’t seem to have any effect on the Duke forward, as she was quick to play it off after the game, focusing on how the team played.
“I don’t think that we’re worried about that,” Williams said. “We’re just worried about getting better as a team and I thought we did that today. Three double-doubles and like you said Onome [Akinbode-James] almost got hers so that’s the only thing that we’re worried about as far as that.”
Although mostly instigated by North Carolina, the situation showed a fire in the eyes of the Blue Devils, something they’ve lacked over their disappointing season. The upcoming ACC tournament may very well represent the last games of the season for this Duke team, but it’s a team that will return the majority of its major contributors, and is looking for improvement and growth starting now.
“Believe me, we want everything back that we did not get, but what’s more important is where are we now, what are we now, and what are we creating for now and the future,” McCallie said. “So, it’s been a while. We’ve been getting better for a while.”
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