It's Haley Gorecki’s world. The Tar Heels are just living in it.
In a much-anticipated heavyweight battle between the two shades of blue, Gorecki outshone everyone else on the floor. She finished the night with a game-high 25 points, bypassing Chelsea Grey and Carey Kauffman for 27th on Duke’s all-time scoring list. Meanwhile, her 12 rebounds, eight assists and two steals were all team-highs for the Blue Devils Thursday night. It was Gorecki’s leadership on both ends of the floor that sparked a 17-3 run in the third quarter to put Duke firmly in the driver’s seat. It was also Gorecki who made sure the Cameron Crazies didn’t have to live through another late-game thriller.
Duke held a comfortable 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the gritty Tar Heels made one last push with an 11-5 run that cut the Blue Devil lead to just six. With four minutes on the clock, the Blue Devils found themselves once again, as they did many times this season, in a close-game situation.
But Gorecki was not going to allow another comeback at her home floor, forcing two crucial defensive stops on the Tar Heels' most reliable ball-handler, Shayla Bennett, in the dwindling minutes of the game. In the first play, Gorecki utilized her quick reaction time, picking Bennett’s pocket as the Tar Heel senior surveyed the floor without much caution.
Duke’s full-court press forced the Carolina guard to commit six turnovers in the game.
On the next play, Bennett decided to drive against Gorecki, with the Blue Devil captain smothering the lay-up attempt with her larger body, effectively quenching the last flame of hope for the visitors.
“Haley just works very, very hard, and when you work very hard and you play hard, that automatically makes you a very good defender,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said on the progress of Gorecki’s defensive game. “I think Haley has been terrific off-ball, with steals and anticipation, and I think her on-ball defense has improved in terms of one-on-one stops. Just better, better, better.”
On the offensive end, Gorecki is a certified bucket from anywhere on the floor. She hit four triples in just six attempts while taking care of her opportunities at the charity stripe in late minutes. But aside from her regular individual production, the real difference-maker of the night was her tremendous passing ability. North Carolina ranks third in the ACC in assists per game, but Gorecki had as many assists as all the Tar Heels combined Thursday.
She dished out a no-look dime to Jade Williams during a fast break and threw a quarterback pass to Kyra Lambert that led to a wide-open layup. But the most impressive delivery came unexpectedly from an inbound play in the fourth quarter. Gorecki launched a perfect lob from the sideline that flew passed the entire Tar Heel defense and connected with Leaonna Odom in the air. The play was a perfect combination of a great pass and an elite catch.
“It’s a set play, Coach P drew it up but I knew [Odom] was going to get that ball,” Gorecki said. “She can just jump out of the gym, so I just throw it up.”
With her incredible output tonight, the Palatine, Ill., native improved her stats to 23.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game across four career matchups against the Tar Heels. She also helped the Blue Devils tie the all-time Tobacco Road rivalry at fifty games apiece.
“Gorecki had herself a night,” North Carolina head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I recruited that kid out of high school, I knew how good she was... You guys should enjoy her while you have her. And if you want to trade her, we’ll take her, if you guys are willing to do that.”
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