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Heels Slog By Duke In The Dome

UNC 56, Duke 51. January 24, 2005. Smith Center.

It can certainly be said that UNC matches up better in some respects
with Duke than any other team in the country because of their athleticism.
It can also be said that several Duke players in this game were completely
neutralized or even made into liabilities. Also of note is that Duke lost
its poise at several times during the course of the game. Despite that,
the Heels nearly choked up a lead and to their credit made several big
plays towards the end to preserve their lead. Even at that, Duke still
had its chances to tie or even take a late lead, and couldn't quite do it.
I say all this because when it was announced months ago that Lindsey
Harding was to be suspended indefinitely, everyone's first thought was
that the Heels would dominate the Devils. Despite their neutralizing
Wanisha Smith, Duke still nearly found a way. And that sums up this
year's team: they usually can find a way, but fell a little short in this
one.

UNC played pretty much exactly as I expected. They used a lot of traps
to disrupt Duke's ballhandling and overcame Duke's superior size by
denying passes into the post. They used a lot of quasi-zone looks,
allowing Duke to shoot as much as they wanted from three but keeping the
lane clogged at all costs. Their key was that they were able to keep Duke
from doing a lot of damage on the offensive boards and exploited Duke's
defense to get plenty of second looks themselves. When Duke went zone,
UNC couldn't penetrate or get good looks, but their posts were able to get
second chances. When Duke went man, the rebounding improved but the Heels
were able to get a lot more going on the offensive end. Duke was never
really able to find a way to rebound out of the zone or consistently stop
them one-on-one, though in general the post defense was outstanding. In a
half-court set, UNC was almost never able to get a good shot. They took
plenty of bad shots (as they are wont to do), but few good ones.

UNC's specific goals went like this: shut down Mistie Williams, harass
Wanisha Smith into turning the ball over, attack Mo Currie when she has
the ball but don't double-team her too much, and take your chances with
Alison Bales and Jessica Foley. Put a check by each goal, because they
all worked. Smith was so rattled that Foley had to take over at point
guard, which certainly didn't help her or the team since that's far from
her most comfortable position on the floor. Williams was completely shut
down by frosh sensation Erlana Larkins, who outrebounded her 10-4. Bales
had a solid defensive game but once again seemed allergic to putting the
ball into the hoop at times. Their plan on Currie worked well for about
33 minutes, until an incensed Mo went berserk and nearly won the game by
herself. Duke's bench could have provided a big lift, but wasn't able to
help enough.

The first fifteen minutes of the game was an orgy of missed shots,
turnovers, and intense defensive play. Currie hit an early 15' jumper and
didn't score again until the second half. The Heels had a small early
lead, but a Foley jumper, Wynter Whitley basket and Bales free throw tied
the game at 7. Duke missed 4 shots and turned the ball over twice, yet
only went down 10-7. Chante Black hit a short jumper and Jess Foley hit a
three to give Duke its only lead at 12-10. The next four minutes saw
exactly two points, by UNC. It looked as though Duke was just trying to
get through the first half to make it to the second, but the Heels went on
a 12-1 run to end the half. In a game like this, a run like that meant
much more than in a high-scoring affair. The run was fueled by three
consecutive Wanisha Smith turnovers that had the Dean Dome rocking and
Duke spiraling downwards. Whitley tried to help, but missed 2 of three
free throws, turned the ball over, and short-armed a late shot.

Things briefly looked up for Duke in the second half, as Duke got to the
foul line a bit and Currie hit a three to cut the lead to 29-22. Again,
both teams missed multiple shots and turned it over, but UNC was able to
slowly build its lead to 11 before Laura Kurz hit 2 foul shot to make it
33-24. The wheels then fell off for Duke as the Heels scored 6 quick
points off 3 straight Duke turnovers to take a commanding 39-24 lead. The
problem for UNC was that their celebration level and body language on the
court indicated a 30-point blowout, but it wasn't.

Currie had picked up three fouls in the span of about a minute, giving
her 4 for the game thanks to an earlier technical foul. Coach G benched
her only briefly, because it was obvious that she was needed. Mo
channelled that frustration into a brilliant comeback attempt, starting
with a couple of free throws. Foley hit a three a bit later to suddenly
cut the lead to 41-31, and Mo then pulled up for a three after an
offensive rebound to make it 9 after Ivory Latta hit 2 free throws. That
three was the start of 9 straight points for Currie, and a drive with
under five minutes left made it 46-40. Latta and Leah Metcalf hit some
clutch threes to stave off Duke, but the Devils responded with some big
shots of their own, as Foley hit a three to cut the lead to 49-43. Mo
once again took over after Larkins scored inside, hitting 2 free throws,
popping a 19' jumper, and attacking the entire UNC team with a drive to
cut it to 51-49. Metcalf scored to make it 53-49, but Currie was fouled
and hit both to make it 53-51 with 1:42 left.

Metcalf missed a shot, but Currie missed a jumper on the other end.
Metcalf missed again, as did Currie, but Bales got the board and was
fouled. She missed both shots and Latta got the board, forcing Duke to
foul her. She made both but Currie was quickly fouled. Amazingly, she
missed both free throws with 15 seconds left, and that was pretty much
Duke's deathknell in this game. Foley and Currie both tried some hurried
threes that clanged off the basket, and UNC got the weight of 12 straight
losses to their arch-rival off their backs.

This game was the first in what is really the meat of Duke's ACC
schedule. UNC, then Maryland in Cameron, then NC State in Raleigh,
Miami on the road (they may be in last place, but ask FSU if you want to
play them there), then the big showdown with the 'noles in Cameron, and
finally at Maryland. Six games, five teams, four of them in the top 25.
If Duke can come out of that 5-1 or 4-2, they'll have the inside track on
another ACC regular season title. Right now, Duke has to go back to
basics a bit and find ways to deal with pressure and force the issue with
their post game a bit. Four of Duke's eight regulars are quite young
still mostly inexperienced, and that showed in this game.

** Negatives:

1. Free Throw Shooting. Duke had their chances at the line and simply
couldn't convert. Bales, normally an 80% shooter from the line, went 1-6
and looked like she had something wrong with her shooting motion. Currie
missed 2 crucial foul shots, while Whitley also missed 2 important ones.

2. Rebounding. Against a smaller front line, Duke's posts were found
wanting. UNC's frontline outrebounded Duke's 26-19, with Bales and
Williams being dominated by their counterparts in pale blue.

3. Poise. Duke did what it hasn't really done this year in times of
trouble--it panicked. Duke took a lot of bad shots, made bad passes, and
was out-toughed throughout the game. The Devils let the Heels dictate the
tempo and got caught up in that.

** Positives:

1. Defense. Other than some lapses in transition defense, Duke's posts
played extremely well. Bales blocked 4 shots and made players think twice
about coming inside, though she could have been a bit more physical.

2. Currie. When everyone else's body language was indicating defeat, Mo
refused to succumb. I have never seen her this emotional, urging her
teammates not to surrender.

Player by Player:

** Bales: Initially, Ali played strong defense, blocking a couple of shots
inside and intimidating Larkins. But the Heels were able to maneuver
around her a few times and really flummoxed her offensively. The missed
free throws really stung, especially given how well she's shot lately.
Still, this was the first serious playing time she's gotten against UNC,
and she clearly wasn't ready for the intensity of the experience.

** Williams: Mistie, on the other hand, has been a major part of every
UNC game that's been played during her tenure--though sometimes that part
has been her absence. Mistie was completely taken out of the game by
Larkins, who despite being smaller then Williams, nonetheless outrebounded
her and shut her down inside with her immense strength. Granted, Mistie
hardly had the ball in her hands, but even when she did, she set up too
far away from the basket to do much of anything. Hopefully Mistie will be
able to bounce back in their next meeting.

** Currie: After being beaten up and tossed around for 30+ minutes, Mo got
mad...and nearly got even. She just didn't quite have enough in the tank
to make those last few shots, after expending everything she had in the
comeback attempt. Mo was sticking threes, nailing pull-up jumpers,
driving to the basket and getting fouled. She was also playing excellent
defense and forcing bad shots. Mo had to do it all, considering that she
was often attacking 2 or 3 opponents at once as Duke called a number of
clear-outs for her. After struggling with turnovers and trying to get her
teammates involved, Mo simply had to take over, and she was up to the
task. She has certainly more than answered any criticisms of her
intensity as she carried the team on her back.

** Foley: Jess struggled, but it certainly wasn't due to a lack of effort.
She played excellent defense, rebounded like crazy (tying Currie with 9)
and never stopped fighting. However, she simply rushed too many shots and
never found a rhythm.

** Smith: Nish really struggled and put too much pressure on herself
rather than relaxing, taking care of the ball and letting the game come to
her. Really, the Heels didn't put a ton of pressure on the ball, but
rather attacked Currie and waited for Smith to make mistakes as they
jumped the passing lanes. Nish had to be pulled from the game because she
was committing the same error over and over again, but she also needs to
understand that she's this team's point guard and will be expected to step
up in the future. In this game, she was a freshman who had a bad day, and
needs to understand that there's plenty of basketball left.

** Kurz: Laura was pressed into extra playing time with Nish sitting so
much and Mo in foul trouble. She guarded Latta and understandably had
trouble there, but also did a nice job of getting to the line. Kurz did
rush her threes a bit and was punished for her low release by having one
of her shots blocked.

** Black: Chante may have struggled at times, but you could really see her
fighting spirit emerge as she really attacked the boards. Defensively,
she was hit hard initially, but rallied to play some solid defense. A
game to build on.

** Whitley: Wynter had a disappointing showing. Given that she's a
longtime veteran of the Duke-UNC wars, it would have been nice to see her
seize a larger role in this game. Instead, she lacked energy at times,
didn't take great shots and wasn't as effective on the defensive end as
she needed to be. Her body language just didn't seem to indicate a lot of
confidence, which is unusual for her in a big game like this.