by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Duke is once again in the ACC women’s semifinals, taking on a Georgia Tech squad that is — like the Blue Devils — a lock for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Tech (23-9) is the No. 5 seed in the event, and is somehow not in the nation’s Top 25.
The Blue Devils (27-3) are the No. 1 seed and the defending champion and ranked No. 8 in the country.
They met once in the regular season at Cameron Indoor Stadium and it wasn’t pretty for the visitors, who limped away after a 69-32 shellacking. Duke has beaten the Yellow Jackets 32 times in a row, and the big question today is whether or not Tech will have enough confidence to put up a challenge.
The other question will be the condition of Jasmine Thomas’ left knee, which she hyperextended in Friday’s game with Wake Forest. She will wear a brace on it today.
It’s certainly no blowout this time, but Duke is just better in the clutch and advances with a 74-66 victory.
Tech puts up a fight from the beginning, trailing only 39-29 at the break after Metra Walthour’s 40-footer at the buzzer.
Duke shoots, yes, 68.2 percent in the first half to the Jackets’ 35.5.
The second half gets really interesting, as the Jackets cut the difference to 51-46 on a Chelsea Regins layup with 10:52 left and never again trail by 10.
The closest approach is at 55-53 on a Sasha Goodlett layup with 7:14 to go.
Georgia Tech has a real shot after a pair of Walthour free throws with 1:20 to play.
But Gray gets a steal on the baseline — her second in a span of 15 seconds - and hits the first of two free throws to make it 71-66 with 34 seconds left.
Haley Peters adds another by making the second of two free throws at :25, and Jasmine Thomas gets the final points on a breakaway layup from Gray with seven seconds remaining.
Karima Christmas leads Duke by tying her season high of 20 points, followed by Jasmine Thomas with 12 points in a whopping 37 minutes and Gray with 10.
Walthour leads Tech with 20 points, while Tyaunna Marshall chips in 19 and Alex Montgomery 12 points with 11 rebounds.
Duke shoots 58.7 percent — better than against anyone but Albany this season — to Tech’s 40.3. Tech wins the rebound battle 35-26 but commits 16 turnovers to Duke’s 15.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “It was just a really exciting, physical, very good basketball game in many ways. I was proud of our fight. I thought we made some huge plays down the stretch. I thought there were a lot of great lessons in the game for us as well. I love the fact that we were aggressive and got to the free-throw line. As far as the plays that were made, I thought Karima was just incredible with her strength. I thought she made incredible plays to the basket sometimes, pretty physical ones with a lot of people hanging on her. ... I think (the final with UNC) is a great matchup. It's a very physical game, great preparation for the NCAA Tournament, a lot of familiarity in terms of the teams, a good rivalry, a pretty good basketball game. They're one of the deeper teams we face, and they have a lot of versatility in the post.”
Tech coach MaChelle Joseph: “Obviously I’m very proud of my team. I thought that we really battled out there for 40 minutes. You know, any time you can outrebound Duke and Maryland back-to-back on two consecutive days you know that’s a lot of heart and hustle. So I have nothing but respect for my players and how hard they competed three days in a row.”
Christmas: “I think I have an understanding for when I need to help my team get better. Whether it’s passing, rebounding, hitting shots. I was just trying to be aggressive today and it kind of turned out in my favor.”
Jasmine Thomas: “I know we go back to it a lot, but our schedule for the entire season has really prepared us for these games.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke is headed for the ACC title game for the fourth year in a row, and that Tech is looking very solid heading into its certain NCAA appearance.
Stars of the game
2. Jasmine Thomas.
Play of the game
Gray’s steal with 36 seconds left.
Duke leads 55-7.
Duke: Won 4.
GT: Lost 1.
Duke vs. UNC, 1 p.m.
Ga. Tech in NCAA Tournament.