Well, tonight I did the unthinkable, and ventured into the venerable Tar Hole Hellhole known as Carmichael Auditorium, fabled stomping ground of Jordan et al, to watch the #5 ranked Duke women take on the #12 UNC women in what is usually a pretty competitive affair. Tonight ( though not an especially well played game) didn’t disappoint on that front.
Initially, it looked like Duke might run away and hide, as they jumped out to an 11-2 lead, but Carolina righted the ship to tie the game. Duke reasserted itself and took a 20-11 lead, paced by the outstanding play of freshman Chelsea Gray but once again could not sustain momentum and Carolina roared back to claim a 27-26 lead at the half.
The second half was a tight affair, as Carolina kept the lead for the majority, though it was never greater than 6. Duke tied the game and took a one point lead on several occasions, but never found the defensive consistency they require to be successful. They seemed especially unable to find Carolina’s Italee Lucas in transition, and she burnt the Devils for 11 second half points. With the game tied at 56 and 3 minutes remaining, Duke failed to get back on defense three times in a row, and , three times in a row commited silly fouls on layups giving the Heels three straight “and-1” opportunites. Maddening. Still, thanks to a clutch late 3 from Jasmine Thomas, the Devils were within 2 and needed a dfensive stop with 37 seconds left. They turned the Heels over with 6 seconds to go, and Chelsea Gray drove the length of the court only to have her layup blocked by Walthea Rolle as time expired. It was a fitting ending, as Rolle, who was the player of the game in my mind, gave Duke absolute fits on the defensive interior all evening and finished with an impressive 10 points, 9 rebounds and 7 blocked shots.
The Duke/Uconn game a week ago was a well publicized embarrassing debacle for the previously unbeaten women, and exposed their primary weakness: a startling inability to shoot the ball. For the most part, they are able to counter this with outstanding pressure defense, but when the defense doesn’t play with consistency as happened tonight, they are going to find themselves in real trouble. Tonight the Lady Devils shot only 34 % from the floor, but takeaway Sophomore Alison Vernerey’s impressive 6-7 showing and the rest of the team shot a lowly 29 %. That, and a miserable 6-12 showing form the FT line, simply isn’t going to win you many games against quality competition.
On a side note, the UNC cheerleading squad has Duke beat hands down, in, um, shall we say, intangibles. Very impressive stuff. Now, this is probably because most of the comparable candidates from Duke are too busy with their pre-law and pre-med studies to care about being cheerleaders, whereas, if UNC offered a trophy-wife major these Tar Heel gals would be graduating Summa Cum Laude. Still, an unlooked for bonus to the evening.