by Mike Potter
No. 6 Duke (24-4, 12-1) has already clinched the ACC regular-season championship and will have the No. 1 seed for the tournament in Greensboro beginning on Thursday, while the Tar Heels' season has bordered on a nightmare.
UNC (17-10, 5-8) was the preseason favorite to win the ACC - at least before it was determined that star forward Jessica Breland would not be able to play as she recovers from Hodgkin's lymphoma - but comes into the matchup having lost seven of its last eight games and desperately needing to do something to impress the NCAA Selection Committee.
It's a day of dedication for the arena, even though the first game was played here back on Jan. 6, and Gov. Bev Perdue is among those on hand for a halftime ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Duke had embarrassed the Tar Heels on Feb. 8 in Durham, rolling to a 79-51 victory. But today UNC gets some payback in a 64-54 shocker, and Coach Sylvia Hatchell has a very happy 58th birthday.
The win does not come easily for the home team.
The Tar Heels, who start Trinity Bursey and Martina Wood on Senior Day, get out to an 11-5 advantage on a Krista Gross 3-pointer with 16:16 left in the first half and never trail before the break, taking a 30-26 advantage into the locker room.
Duke shoots 26.8 percent from the floor before the break to UNC's 39.3, and the Blue Devils really never find the hoop all day.
The Blue Devils make a run and then get a big break leading 42-39 with 13:12 to play, when the elbow of UNC freshman Cierra Robertson-Warren's connects with the neck of Duke winger Karima Christmas and Robertson-Warren is ejected. It's the first ejection call in ACC women's basketball this season.
But the Blue Devils' performance at the free-throw line foreshadows the conclusion. Before Duke gets the ball back Jasmine Thomas misses two on the ejection, then Christmas misses three, then Keturah Jackson misses the front of a one-and-one.
UNC takes the lead for good on a steal and layup from Cetera DeGraffenreid (pictured) with 10:21 to go, and it seems that she takes over the game from that point. The Tar Heels have to endure the mine field of having their two biggest players foul out - Chay Shegog at 5:02 and Waltiea Rolle at 4:20.
The Tar Heels' biggest pad is the final score, coming when Gross hits the second of two free throws with 18 seconds left.
DeGraffenreid leads the Tar Heels with 22 points including 15-for-17 from the free-throw line, while Rolle adds 12 and She'la White 11.
Christmas leads Duke with 14 points followed by Jasmine Thomas with 11 and Joy Cheek 10.
UNC shoots 38.3 percent to Duke's 26.4, but Duke wins the rebound battle 45-43 and commits 22 turnovers to the Tar Heels' 30. UNC wins despite being without leading rebounder Laura Broomfield, who was suspended by Hatchell for the contest.
They said it ...
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: "This is a great win for us. We've been working really hard. I was really proud of these kids for being tough when their backs were against the wall. We put kids in there that hadn't played much all year. It was a great team effort, and shows that when you work hard and you believe, great things can happen. This young lady (DeGraffenreid) took us on her back when we needed it, and led the team. ... Duke's a great team and Jasmine is a great player. They pretty much manhandled us when we played over there, and we knew we had to match their physicality."
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "It was a physical game, and a great opportunity for us to battle and be in a physical game. We did some good things and some things that were not so good. 72 (Duke) shots is a whole lot of shots, to their 47. We certainly had our fair share of shots, just not always the best selection so we had some issues there. Shooting the basketball is a wonderful thing, but you have to have patience and poise and we didn't do that. ... We did not capitalize in any way on that ejection. We shot a bunch of free throws and didn't hit any of them."
DeGraffenreid: "In our offense the coaches kept telling us to take it to the basket, take it to the basket. My teammates got to the rims and got the rebounds. We did that well in the second half. ... One thing you don't do at Carolina is lose games at home. It was a great team effort. ... They had 30 turnovers and we had 22, and there wasn't much composure out there at all."
Cheek: "You've got to let this game go, but we can't play like this again. We didn't come ready. We got punched and we didn't punch back. In a tournament it's one-and-done, so you can't play like that and expect to come back."
What does it all mean?
That Duke probably can't get a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and that the Tar Heels are probably in the NCAA Tournament. We'll see.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
DeGraffenreid's steal and layup to make it 57-51 with 3:58 to go.
UNC leads 46-32.
UNC: Won 1.
Duke: Lost 1.
UNC vs. Maryland in Greensboro, Thursday, 3 p.m.
Duke vs. UNC-Maryland winner in Greensboro, Friday, 3 p.m.