Duke is solid, Tar Heels up, Wolfpack needs a jump-start

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The halfway point of the regular season is almost here for ACC women’s basketball, and three things are pretty clear about the Triangle’s entries.

Duke is just as good as advertised.

UNC may be better than most people expected.

And N.C. State, although a decent team, needs to get things turned around quickly to avoid a tough March.

Duke stays perfect
Following a 90-53 road shellacking of a much improved Boston College team in which junior guard Chelsea Gray matched a conference record with her second career triple-double, No. 3 Duke is the only unbeaten Division I women’s basketball team in the country.

Dukes Chelsea Gray handles the ball Thursday night at N.C. State
Joanne P. McCallie’s club is hardly getting it done with smoke and mirrors. Despite an unlikely rash of injuries — most noticeably to center Elizabeth Williams who is still on the comeback trail from her foot injury of last March — the Blue Devils (13-0, 3-0 AC) have made things look easy against everybody. So far only the Wolfpack, which fell 67-57 in Raleigh Thursday night, has been able to finish within 10 points of Duke.

And it has been happening through a series of solid team efforts.

The sophomore Williams is averaging 15 points and 6.9 rebounds, while habitual stat-sheet stuffer Gray is at 14.9 and 5.8 with 5.7 assists. Junior forward Haley Peters (12.9, 7.2) ranges from steady to spectacular, and junior guard Tricia Liston (12.8, 6.3) is averaging two 3-pointers per game.

Freshman point guard Alexis Jones (8.2, 4.1) has moved seamlessly into the mix.

Duke’s next game is Thursday night at home against Clemson, and the Blue Devils may not be seriously challenged until they visit old nemesis Connecticut on Jan. 21. That game could be an indication of whether or not the Blue Devils are serious contenders for the national championship.

Tar Heels keep rolling
Sylvia Hatchell’s No. 15 Tar Heels (15-1, 3-0) have won some ugly ones, but haven’t slipped up since their lost Sunday afternoon at Tennessee (a 102-57 loss) back on Dec. 2.

They got a signature victory when they took down visiting No. 8 Maryland 60-57 on Thursday night, but they have trouble scoring at times and need to be at their best when they visit N.C. State in three days.

UNC is getting great leadership from finally healthy senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (14-4, 4.1 assists), who for the first time in her career isn’t dealing with nagging shoulder problems. Freshman forward Xylina McDaniel (12.6, 8.3 rebs.) has lived up to her preseason hype, and 6-6 senior center Waltiea Rolle (12.2, 6.9) is quicker than last season and has been dominant in the paint.

Unlike last season’s injury-plagued club the Tar Heels again have solid depth, leaving a 25-win season and long March runs realistic possibilities.

Wolfpack faces a tough road
Kellie Harper’s Wolfpack (8-7, 0-3) showed once again against Duke that it can play with anybody, but dropped an important 69-56 loss on Sunday at Wake Forest. State let a couple of close games get away in its Thanksgiving weekend excursion to Las Vegas, and would seem to need a couple of upsets soon to get things headed in the right direction.

Junior Kody Burke (15.3, 7.5) is getting double-doubles with regularity and senior guard Marissa Kastanek (11.6, 3.6) always provides solid leadership.

But although the Wolfpack is fairly deep, it needs more consistency through the rest of the lineup.

A winning season and post-season play are still within reach, but to get it State will need to elevate its game to the level it found against Duke when lesser opposition appears on the schedule.

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