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Duke women's basketball looking to continue scalding stretch in ACC tournament

<p>The Blue Devils have been on fire over the last two months. Can they keep it up heading into postseason play?</p>

The Blue Devils have been on fire over the last two months. Can they keep it up heading into postseason play?

If you had said in mid-January that Duke would be the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament, you would have been dismissed as an irrational optimist. 

However, thanks to Haley Gorecki, Leaonna Odom, and efficient team basketball, the Blue Devils have won eleven of their last fourteen games they have stepped on the floor. With major resume-boosting victories over No. 22 Florida State and No. 10 North Carolina State, Duke has reversed its fortunes entirely.

The Blue Devils enjoyed a double-bye due to their high seed, and will face No. 6 seed Boston College in the quarterfinal Friday at 8 p.m. in Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. Duke tallied its second-highest scoring output in conference play during an 85-73 victory over Boston College in December thanks to a 27-point outing from Gorecki.

One thing to look for in Duke’s quarterfinal matchup is the turnover battle, as Duke forced 19 turnovers against the Eagles (19-11) in their regular season matchup. If the Blue Devils can get in transition early and often on Friday, they will be able to wear down Boston College. Duke’s half-court offense has seen significant changes since the early stretches of ACC play, so the Blue Devils will be able to implement certain sets that the Eagles didn't see in the initial meeting.

If Duke (18-11) is able to advance to Saturday’s semifinals, they will likely have to face second-seeded N.C. State (25-4), barring a major upset. After winning 22 of their first 23 contests, the Wolfpack have struggled going into the postseason, including the home loss to Duke Feb. 24.

The Blue Devils led throughout the 70-65 win over N.C. State, committing only eight turnovers and dishing out 16 assists. Gorecki was particularly clutch when her number was called late, as Duke spread the floor and allowed the graduate shooting guard to attack off the dribble. However, as was the case during a 63-60 loss to N.C. State in Cameron Indoor Stadium three weeks beforehand, the Blue Devils had no answer for Elissa Cunane, who averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds against Duke in the two meetings. 

The sophomore center from Summerfield, N.C., takes advantage of any opportunity she had on the interior, and if Jade Williams is forced to deal with foul trouble in the ACC Tournament, Cunane can wreck Duke’s chances of advancing to the championship round. 

With regards to the other top contenders in the Blue Devils’ path, top-seeded Louisville (27-3) presents a slightly tougher challenge compared to fourth-seeded Florida State (22-7). Duke fell behind early against Louisville and failed to complete a furious comeback in a 60-55 road loss. Against Florida State, the Blue Devils began to turn some heads in the ACC with a 66-64 win over the Seminoles in the regular season. Gorecki and Odom combined for 39 points, and Williams and Onome Akinbode-James were steady influences on the inside. If Duke faces Florida State in a potential championship matchup, the Blue Devils would have an opportunity to relentlessly attack the Seminoles’ perimeter defense.

Due to this recent stretch of stellar play, Duke clearly is a real contender in Greensboro this weekend. Offensively, the Blue Devils have been sharing the ball and connecting from distance at a much more proficient rate than they were at the beginning of the season, and their tenacity on the defensive end has resulted in turnovers galore by opponents. Duke seems to be following the blueprint of a talented team that puts it all together at the right time heading into March, which means that a deep run in the ACC tournament is likely.

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