by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM One team has been going through some pretty hard times lately.
The other is coming off one very tough night.
But none of that is likely to matter much tonight at 7, when No. 6 Duke hosts No. 9 UNC as part of ESPN2's Big Monday.
The Blue Devils (18-4, 6-1 ACC) looked like they might have a chance to sweep through the ACC schedule unblemished before their game on Thursday night at Boston College, which cancelled that idea with a 61-57 upset win.
That was happening at the same time the Tar Heels (16-5, 4-3), who were preseason favorites to win the conference, were dropping their second straight defeat in an 80-69 decision at resurgent Miami. Sylvia Hatchell's club has struggled on the road this season, going 2-4 away from Chapel Hill.
It will be the first time since 1997 that the teams are facing each other when each lost its previous game. Such a scenario has traditionally bidden well for the Tar Heels, who are 7-1 in games against Duke when each had lost its previous outing.
UNC badly needs a victory to have any realistic chance at the ACC's regular-season title.
The two teams split last season, with the homestanding Blue Devils winning their regular-season finale 81-79.
Duke held a press luncheon on Friday to discuss the situation.
"I don't even remember what I felt like last year playing them," said Duke senior forward Joy Cheek (pictured.) "I felt like it was just another game. When you try to hype it up even more than what it is, that's when you mess up. It's been going on for years and years, and it's a big game because of the schools' strong competition and rivalry, but you can't think of it like that.
"You've got to go out there and play Carolina like you do Clemson, Connecticut, Miami, whoever else you play. You have to play them the exact same way. We try to be intense all games. We can play a team we might beat by a lot of points just as intensely as a team we might have a close game. We didn't have that intensity (against Boston College.) With Carolina we might come out a lot more intense and people will say that's the rivalry, but I don't think so. It's because that's just the way we play."
That win last season was Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie's only victory in seven tries against the Tar Heels.
McCallie said she was disappointed against the way her team played against Boston College's front line, and hopes Duke learned from it.
"I think it's great that we have another team that has excellent post players (as in Chay Shegog, Laura Broomfield and freshman Waltiea Rolle), because you have at it again," McCallie said. "Obviously there's a heightened awareness because of what we did not accomplish last game out. Overall, it's definitely a focus point in playing Carolina, but it's obviously also their guards - (Italee) Lucas is pretty special. She's a difficult guard to play.
"We could stop their posts, but their guards are very tough to stop. (Cetera) DeGraffenreid and (She'la) White go, and they go hard. Their capability is very, very good in transition. They push the ball hard and transition defense is always an issue. It's also about not fouling. (The Tar Heels) throw their bodies to the basket a lot, and a lot of people are fouling them when they're in motion. So the transition defense is a full effort and will be against them."
The rematch in Chapel Hill will be on Feb. 28.
No. 6 Duke vs. No. 9 UNC
[Monday, 7 p.m., Cameron Indoor Stadium]
UNC leads series 45-31.
Records: Duke 18-4, 6-1 ACC; UNC 16-5, 4-3.
Audio: WDNC-AM 620, WCHL-AM 1360, GoDuke.com, TarHeelBlue.com.
Coaches' records - UNC: Sylvia Hatchell: 828-287, 556-207 at UNC; Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 386-168, 70-20 at Duke.
Leading scorers - UNC: Italee Lucas 16.6; Duke: Jasmine Thomas 16.3.
Leading rebounders - UNC: Laura Broomfield 8.2; Duke: Krystal Thomas 7.3.
Assist leaders - UNC: Cetera DeGraffenreid 5.3; Duke: Jasmine Thomas 4.3.