by Mike Potter
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL It’s the big one. Or at least the big one of the day.
The Blue Devils (21-1, 7-0 ACC) are ranked No. 5 nationally, and would have a huge leg up in the conference’s regular-season race with a win tonight.
UNC (20-3, 6-2), ranked No. 13 and obviously back in form after an awful (by Tar Heel standards) 2009-10 season, probably would need to sweep the season series with Duke to claim the regular-season crown.
Duke’s only loss so far was to defending NCAA champion Connecticut, while Connecticut has also been the only visiting team to win in Carmichael.
No current Duke player has ever won in Chapel Hill.
The expected war ensues, but the Tar Heels make the last big play of the day when Waltiea Rolle blocks Chelsea Gray’s potential game-tying shot in a 62-60 UNC victory.
Duke comes out hot and UNC cold, as the Blue Devils score the first eight points ending in Jasmine Thomas’ layup from Richa Jackson at 17:39.
But the Tar Heels storm back in a big way. After Duke leads 20-11 following Allison Vernerey’s layup from Karima Christmas at 10:43, UNC scores 13 straight points — five from Italee Lucas - until a Vernerey hook shot breaks the streak at 3:27.
The teams go into intermission with the Tar Heels leading 27-26. UNC shoots 37.5 percent in the first half to the Blue Devils’ 37.9 and is leading the rebound battle 21-19.
Duke leads early in the second half on Haley Peters’ layup from Gray that makes it 38-37 at 13:43. But UNC quickly responds to go up 45-39 on a pair of Laura Broomfield free throws at 10:09.
Duke goes up 56-54 on a Gray layup from Jasmine Thomas at 3:29 before the Tar Heels go on an 8-1 run that ends on Lucas’ jumper from Breland at 1:33.
Jasmine Thomas cuts the lead to two on a 3-pointer with 36 ticks left. And the Blue Devils have a chance to tie in the closing seconds, but Rolle slaps down Gray’s final attempt for her seventh block of the game to tie her career high.
Lucas finishes with 17 points, followed by Rolle with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks and Tierra
Ruffin-Pratt with 10 points, a career-high eight assists and seven rebounds. Lucas has 1513 points and is in 19th place on the Tar Heels’ career scoring list.
Gray leads Duke with a season-high 20 points, followed by Jasmine Thomas with 18 points and Vernerey with 13. Krystal Thomas has 11 rebounds to go with her five points before fouling out with 1:33 left. Jasmine Thomas’ two assists make her the fourth Duke player — along with Alana Beard, Monique Currie and Katie Meier - ever to have 1,300 points, 400 rebounds, 400 assists, 200 steals and 50 blocked shots.
UNC shoots 45.6 percent to Duke’s 34.8, but the Blue Devils win the rebound battle 44-38 and commit just 13 turnovers to the Tar Heels’ 16.
They said it …
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “We tried hard to pull out the game. I was proud of (Ruffin-Pratt and Rolle). Waltiea just gets better and better, and her blocked shots really made a difference in there. (Tierra) did a really good job defensively and rebounding and she’s just playing better. … She’s worked really hard and she’s gotten much stronger, physically stronger, and that’s made a big difference. She has great timing, she works real hard in practice and she’s getting better and better around the basket.”
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “It was a great basketball game. I really appreciate our last two minutes. I thought that was the best we played all game, and a good learning experience for our team to understand what it takes to play on the road and to demand of each other. I like that we won the rebounding battle, but we didn’t win the battle of being smart. There were three or four ‘and-ones’ called at the end of the game, which is completely unacceptable and shows a lack of discipline on our part.”
Rolle: “I’m glad I played well, but there are other games that were hard. This is not the only game that I have played hard in, but I think I did all right today.”
Jasmine Thomas: “Our team’s just got to change. You can’t keep coming out saying your team’s not playing with enough heart and not fighting enough. That’s something you shouldn’t have to coach and shouldn’t have to demand from a team. That’s something we have to change.”
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Rolle’s block at the buzzer.
UNC leads 47-32.
Duke: Lost 1.
UNC: Won 4.
UNC at Clemson, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Duke at Wake Forest, Friday, 8:30 p.m.