by Mike Potter
Duke is off to the kind of start that could lead to that elusive Final Four appearance and perhaps even a shot at the NCAA championship.
Sunday was the biggest day so far this season for Triangle ACC women’s basketball teams, and while the Blue Devils had an impressive victory at home the Tar Heels suffered a very hard loss on the road and the Wolfpack just suffered another loss on the road.
Blue Devils are flying high
Currently ranked No. 4, Duke (6-0) is very much living up to its preseason hype. The Blue Devils were dominant enough early in the game to make things look pretty easy in a 77-63 win over a very good No. 10 California team.
Joanne P. McCallie’s club has shrugged off the nagging injuries she gets tired of talking about. With Elizabeth Williams playing very well but still recovering from the knee problems that nagged her during the NCAA Tournament, senior center Allison Vernerey has been a huge weapon coming off the bench. The junior trio of Chelsea Gray, Tricia Liston and Haley Peters continues to lead the team with an amazing level of chemistry, and freshman point guard Alexis Jones has fit right into the mix.
Duke should be even better as the other two juniors — guard Chloe Wells and wing Richa Jackson — continue to recover from their leg injuries.
Tar Heels need a recovery
UNC (7-1) seemed to be on the right track after winning the WNIT and then taking out Ohio State 57-54 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night. But the No. 22 Tar Heels had a very rough day on Rocky Top Sunday, falling 102-57 at Tennessee. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who has had an injury-plagued career but was consistently living up to her old billing in the early season, played only 11 minutes against the Lady Vols before suffering a concussion.
But maybe the trip to Knoxville was just a one-day problem. Freshman forward Xylina McDaniel is already becoming a star, senior Waltiea Rolle is a force in the paint and the Tar Heels don’t seem to have any major weaknesses anywhere. With senior Krista Gross on the floor along with redshirt freshman Megan Buckland and sophomore Brittany Rountree, the Tar Heels provide a good critical mass of very heady players for Sylvia Hatchell’s team.
Wolfpack needs a turnarnound
N.C. State (5-4) hit the toughest part of its non-conference schedule and has had its share of lumps, losing three straight and four of its last five. Most of the losses including Sunday’s 81-73 defeat at LSU were of the respectable variety.
The 68-51 home loss to Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the worst home loss in the Kellie Harper era, was particularly painful. But the Wolfpack does have potential.
Junior Markeisha Gatling is creating plenty of space inside, making Kody Burke a more effective player. Myisha Goodwin-Coleman is a solid ACC point guard as a sophomore. Marissa Kastanek remains the kind of emotional leader many teams might envy, and the additions of Southern California transfer Len’Nique Brown and freshman Ashley Eli have helped bolster the backcourt.
An interesting 10 days
The next few weeks are light on compelling home games, but three interesting ones are on tap over the next 10 days.
On Thursday night at 7 Duke will host Georgia Tech in its ACC opener, the first test of how the Blue Devils will look against high-caliber conference competition.
On Sunday at 2 State will host in-state rival Elon, in the Phoenix’ first visit to the Triangle under new coach and UNC legend Charlotte Smith.
Then on Dec. 12 at 11 a.m. the Tar Heels will host N.C. Central in the Eagles’ only meeting with one of the established Triangle powers this season. It will be new Eagle coach Vanessa Taylor’s first shot at UNC.