by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM It’s the regular-season finale. The Battle of the Blues. Throw out all the records because it’s for all the marbles - at least for a few days.
The classic old building will be packed to the gills this afternoon, as No. 5 Duke (26-2, 16-1) hosts No. 15 UNC (26-4, 14-3). The Blue Devils won the first meeting 84-63 on Feb. 3 in Chapel Hill.
It’s Senior Day for Blue Devil center Allison Vernerey.
Duke, which has won 17 straight at home, has clinched its fourth straight ACC regular-season title. The Tar Heels would get the No. 2 seed with the upset, but would have a coin flip with Maryland for the seed if Duke wins.
This time Duke prevails again in a game that’s often but very entertaining, holding on to win 65-58.
Duke dominates early, taking a 22-10 lead on a pair of Alexis Jones free throws with 6:08 left in the first half.
The Tar Heels rally, taking a 27-26 lead at the break on a jumper from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. UNC makes it 32-26 on a Brittany Rountree 3-pointer with 18:52 to go.
But UNC goes as cold as the outside wind, missing 19 straight field-goal attempts. And Duke is up 48-34 before Waltiea Rolle hits a jumper for the Tar Heels with 9:09 to go.
UNC’s closest approach after that is 50-44 on a Xylina McDaniel layup with 3:03 to go.
Jones leads the Blue Devils with 22 points, followed by Elizabeth Williams with 13 and Haley Peters 10.
Ruffin-Pratt leads UNC with 16 points, while Krista Gross adds 10 with a game-high 12 rebounds for the senior’s third double-double of the year and 10th of her career.
Duke shoots 37.7 percent from the floor to the Tar Heels’ 29.7. UNC wins the rebound battle 48-47 and commits 22 turnovers to Duke’s 29. But the Blue Devils are 23-for-30 from the free-throw line to the Tar Heels’ frigid 9-for-21.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “I’m just really proud of our team and the fight, particularly in the second half. It was sort of a very physical game on both sides. It was great to see Alexis play that way today. She’s a very, very talented player. She’s one of the very best and certainly one of the best freshmen in the country, but also one of the best guards in the (ACC).”
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: “I look at the stat sheet and see all these categories where we beat them or were ahead of them. So if we could make some foul shots that would help. We wanted to hold their 3-point shots down and they hit two. We wanted them to turn the ball over and they had 29. I see a lot of good things here, and we’ll build off this and get ready for the ACC Tournament.”
Jones: “I’m pretty comfortable in the offense we’ve been playing. We’ve played (four) games without Chelsea (Gray) now so I’m pretty comfortable and fluid. Chelsea is like a big sister to me, so during timeouts, she says, ‘OK Alexis, I see this and this’ and I just listen to her and feed off the energy.”
Ruffin-Pratt: “I thought our effort was great. I’m really proud of my team. We fought to the end and — like Coach said — we won all the categories we wanted to win in except for points. I think we did a pretty good job.”
What does it all mean?
That both teams are looking solid going into the ACC Tournament.
Play of the game
Jones’ three-point play with 2:52 left to put Duke up 53-44.
Duke: Won 1.
UNC: Lost 1.
UNC leads 47-38
ACC Tournament in Greensboro
Duke vs. N.C. State or Clemson, Friday, 2 p.m.
UNC vs. Virginia or Boston College, Friday, 8 p.m.