Duke tops UNC in third round of women’s basketball rivalry

The Blue Devils advanced to the ACC Tournament semifinals

Duke's Emily Balogun tries to block an in-bounds pass from UNC's Alyssa Ustby in the waning seconds of Duke's ACC Tournament win (photo by Shawn Krest)

GREENSBORO — Duke and Carolina wrote another chapter in the story that never gets old as the rivals met in the ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinals.

The 7th-seeded Tar Heels had swept the regular season series over the 2nd-seeded Blue Devils, including a season-ending 45-41 defensive struggle just six days earlier that cost Duke a share of the regular season title.

The defense didn’t get scaled back at all in the third round of this year’s rivalry game. Duke rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a 44-40 win over the Tar Heels and advance to the ACC semifinals on Saturday afternoon.

“We treated you to a great basketball game,” said UNC coach Courtney Banghart. “I didn’t think we could score less. I didn’t think it would be as low scoring as it was the last time we played them, but it was actually less scoring. So you’re seeing two of the very best defensive teams in the country go at it in our state. How cool.”

Made shots were scarce. Duke shot just 32% for the game, while Carolina shot 24.2%.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we were able to figure out a way to get it done, which is all you need to do in tournament like this,” said Duke coach Kara Lawson.

The Tar Heels took advantage of 13 Duke turnovers in the first half to build a five-point halftime lead. The lead grew to as many as nine points in the fourth quarter before the Blue Devils turned the screws on defense, holding the Tar Heels to four points in the fourth quarter on 2-of-16 shooting.

“Our goal is to have them take challenged shots every time,” Lawson said. “We felt like in the first half they got loose for some layups and some open 3s, and we needed to kind of get ahold of our defense that way. What went right for us down the stretch was, I can’t say for sure every shot … but we were in their face every time challenging, hand up.”

“We had a lot of chances in that fourth quarter to make shots, a lot of them,” said Banghart. “I like a lot of the looks that we had, and we just weren’t able to finish them.”

Duke also outrebounded Carolina by a 47-31 margin and was able to hold its second-half turnovers to just six, less than half the number the Blue Devils were plagued by in the first half.

“We just talked about that category (at halftime) and said we have to be just more mindful on the offensive end with what we’re doing,” said Lawson. “When we see an opening, be aggressive. What I didn’t want them to be is tentative. Sometimes if you say to players don’t turn it over, then they’re going to say I’m just going to be conservative all the time. And we didn’t need conservative, we needed attacking. We just needed to be more mindful and we were attacking, and I thought we did a better job of that.”

From the 2:27 mark in the third quarter until Duke’s Shayeann Day-Wilson hit a free throw to push the margin to four with three seconds remaining in the game, the two teams were never separated by more than one possession as the lead changed hands four times and the game was tied on four occasions over the last 12 plus minutes.

“In the critical moments of the game, we executed just a little bit better and were able to make one or two more plays,” said Lawson. “That’s how these games go. It comes down to the end.”