by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Here at the semifinals of the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament, this is the side of the bracket that has gone according to form.
Top-seeded Duke is actually supposed to be here, as is No. 4 seed Georgia Tech. Both of these teams are certainly going to the NCAA Tournament no matter what goes down before sunset tomorrow.
The ninth-ranked Blue Devils got through the expected war with Maryland in the quarterfinals, while almost-ranked Georgia Tech came back to take out morning crowd favorite Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils won the regular-season meeting 64-50 on Feb. 19 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, with the Jackets putting on a respectable performance. Duke has won a ridiculous 30 straight games in the series.
And the streak continues, as the Blue Devils pull away over the past 10 minutes for a 67-55 victory.
There are seven lead changes and four ties in the first half, as the Blue Devils lead 29-25 at the break. Neither team leads by more than five points over the first 33 ½ minutes.
Joy Cheek finally puts the Blue Devils up by seven, at 55-48 on a layup with 6:19 to go.
Sasha Goodlett cuts it to 55-50 on a layup from Metra Walthour at 5:43 left before the Blue Devils pull away.
Duke scores the next eight points - on Jasmine Thomas' layup from Shay Selby followed by Thomas steal and layup, a jumper from Cheek and another from Keturah Jackson at 2:47 for a 13-point lead.
Tech never again cuts the margin to single digits, and Duke is going to the final for the third straight season. The Blue Devils' last championship was in 2004.
Karima Christmas (pictured) leads Duke with 15 points including 10-for-13 from the free-throw line, followed by Cheek and Jasmine Thomas with 10 apiece, all of Thomas' in the second half.
Alex Montgomery paces the Yellow Jackets with 19 points and 12 rebounds, followed by Goodlett with 13 points and Deja Foster with 11.
Duke shoots 43.6 percent to Tech's 40.8, and is outrebounded 38-28. The difference is turnovers, as the Blue Devils commit 11 to Tech's 26.
They said it:
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "This team has worked so hard. We love the opportunity (to play in the final. We've been there before. We've had fantastic games and we love Greensboro, in general. At the same time, my mind is on rebounding a little bit and getting better as a team and allowing that to be our focus. ... At this point of the year we're picky about things and we have to do things right. What I'm saying is I really would like to rebound and have something that catapults us into success. And bring the balloons our way."
Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph: "I just want to say how proud I am of our team and our effort. I thought we did some things defensively that caused Duke some problems. We were able to take Jasmine Thomas a little bit out of her game. She's a tremendous talent and great scorer and great leader. And I thought we were able to disrupt her offensive flow a little bit. We obviously we feel as though we are right there knocking on the door. We feel we're one player away from being a top ten team."
Thomas: "I think I was more aggressive in the second half overall. You have to take what the defense gives you, and I had one on me all game. And playing off the screen and knowing I had to get the ball off the teammate, and I think that is what I did in the last ten minutes - not looking to score, but looking to set my teammates up."
Cheek: "I didn't know it was a 31-win streak. I wasn't here for all 31. I don't think there was any pressure. You want to go out and beat them. It would have been the same if we had lost those 31 games. You want to go out there and win. That is the only thing; they were in the way of us getting into the finals of the ACC Tournament and that is all we thought about. It's nice to add another one to the streak."
Stars of the game
3. J. Thomas.
Play of the game
Jasmine Thomas' layup from Selby that made it 57-50 with 4:36 left.
Duke leads 52-7.
Duke: Won 2.
Ga. Tech: Lost 1.
Duke vs. N.C. State, Sunday, 1 p.m.