by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke is one win from gaining its first No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament for the first time in three years.
But tonight's opponent for the No. 6 Blue Devils is not an easy one.
No. 21 Virginia, led by probable ACC player of the year Monica Wright, has 20 wins and is in a bye spot for the tournament, and is certain to get an NCAA bid.
Unfortunately because of the unbalanced ACC schedule, this is the teams' only meeting of the regular season. And the Blue Devils use a big second half to win 83-65, tying Virginia's worst defeat of the season for their 17th straight victory in the series.
It's Senior Night for the Blue Devils, and the final regular-season home game for Joy Cheek (pictured), Keturah Jackson and Bridgette Mitchell. And it's on regional cable TV.
They'll play at home again, as Duke will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament on March 20 and 22.
Tonight Virginia comes out very ready to play, leading much of the early going before the Blue Devils lead 34-32 at halftime. Wright has 15 points at the break for Virginia, which outshoots the Blue Devils 44.8 to 41.9 percent and outrebounds them 21-15 over the first 20 minutes.
But the second half is, as they say, all Duke. A 9-2 run starts the process, and the lead gets to 81-59 on a Krystal Thomas layup with 2:08 to go.
Jasmine Thomas, the only Virginian on the Blue Devils' roster, leads her team with 21 points followed by Allison Vernerey with 17 and Cheek with 13.
Wright leads the Cavaliers with 27 points, followed by Paulisha Kellum with 13 off the bench and Chelsea Shine with 10.
After outshooting the visitors 52.9 percent to 25.9 percent in the second half, the Blue Devils finish at 47.7 to Virginia's 35.7. Duke wins the rebound battle 41-35 and commits 14 turnovers to Virginia's 19.
They said it ...
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "I'm very proud of our team. It was great team basketball, much better defense, rebounding, and attacking. Jasmine's leadership in the second half and her attack mode. Allison starting us off right away and being so aggressive, and Joy was steady Joy all the way through, rebounding and scoring and doing the things that she does. ... I think (the regular-season title) is just great and reflects this team totally. This team has been working hard since summer. Everyone has done her part. They've been steady and consistent and it's really been the team's mindset. It's special for Duke. It's always special to capture titles. "
Virginia coach Debbie Ryan: "I thought we had decent effort. I felt like we weren't executing well, we got outside the game plan. We started taking jumpers, we started doing some things that we were very clear about not doing against them. You can't take jumpers against Duke. That's exactly what they want you to do. ... Monica played unbelievably tonight and I think she was hit on every shot, at least shoved or pushed. But I knew they weren't going to be able to call everything. She goes 13-of-15 from the free-throw line, and she deserved every single one of those free throws."
Cheek: "I don't think of this as our 'last game.' I think the last NCAA game that we have here will resonate a little more. I felt like I was coming back again after tonight. That was the mindset I had - we'll have another Senior Night."
Wright: "It was pretty tough trying to get open. Their defense is definitely pretty good. Duke is a very strong team, physically and mentally, and they're going to be pretty good come tournament time."
What does it all mean?
That the Blue Devils are ACC regular-season champions, and that Virginia looks good enough to make runs in both of its post-season tournaments.
Stars of the game
1. J. Thomas.
Play of the game
Cheek's 3-pointer that made it 39-32 with 19:02 left.
Virginia leads 31-29.
Duke: Won 6.
Virginia: Lost 2.
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Duke at UNC, Sunday, 3 p.m.