I don’t know if the Duke women’s basketball team turned around its season or just had a satisfying outlier. But Duke’s 85-69 win over North Carolina certainly checked the final box, an upset win in Chapel Hill.
Led by Haley Gorecki’s 28 points, 10 rebounds and four assists Duke took the lead late in the first half and withstood every Tar Heel comeback.
Carolina played without their best player, redshirt senior guard Paris Kea. She has been under the weather for several days but Sylvia Hatchell said she thought Kea would play until shortly before game time.
“We were very out of sync,” Hatchell said. “We started out pretty good but then they gained confidence. They kept spreading out their defense which took away some of the things we wanted to do and we weren’t getting anything inside. We weren’t able to adjust to her (Kea) being out.”
Still, no one could deny that Duke played with more aggression and confidence, dominating the paint and never losing their poise. Both Hatchell and Duke’s Joanne P. McCallie prioritize rebounding, so Duke’s 42-30 rebounding advantage was a significant part of Duke’s victory.
Duke came out strong, jumping to an 8-2 lead after two minutes. It was still 12-6, when Duke started turning it over and Carolina started clawing back. The Tar Heels outscored Duke 18-6 over the final 4:22 of the second half, with Leah Church ending the period with a 30-foot bomb.
That made it 24-18.
The Tar Heels seemed to be in control at 29-22, when the wheels came off.
Role-player Faith Suggs started the comeback with a 3-pointer, then Duke started getting inside, layups by Jade Williams, Leaonna Odom and Miela Goodchild on consecutive possessions giving Duke a 32-29 lead it would never relinquish.
The half ended with Duke up 40-31, an 18-2 run over a span of 7:15.
Gorecki describes the keys to that explosion.
“I think just composure and using our speed and controlling the tempo. UNC likes to play fast. So do we. But with the numbers, we needed to control the tempo and I think we did that.”
Janelle Bailey gave the Tar Heel perspective.
“Lack of communication, rebounding, we weren’t together as a team, either in time-out or on the court. We put our heads in the sand and couldn’t get them out.”
Still, Duke has had trouble closing out winnable games this season. Carolina closed to five several times in the third period but no closer. A Gorecki 3-pointer made it 55-46 and Duke finished the third up 60-52.
How was Duke able to hold on?
They held Stephanie Watts to 11 points, on 4-for-18 shooting, 3-for-13 from beyond the arc.
She came into the game averaging 16.1 points per game. With Kea out, Watts needed to step up her game. But Duke wouldn’t let her.
“She has a deep three,” McCallie said. “Just trying to get her a little uncomfortable. She has such WNBA range. She’s way out there. I’m very proud of the team defense to look for her, identify her early before the catch and then try to get her off the line as much as possible.”
On the other end, Duke kept getting the ball inside, Gorecki off the dribble, passing, second-chance. Duke assisted on 20 of their 33 field goals.
“If I see an open lane, I like to drive,” Gorecki under-stated. “Honestly, I would like to drive rather than shoot. I think we just took the good opportunities.”
The lead stayed between 7 and 13 most of the fourth quarter. Freshmen starters Onome Akinbode-James and Miela Goodchild made huge plays, the former a layup after Carolina cut it to 65-58 with 6:47 left and the latter a 3 that broke it open, at 76-63, with 2:36 left.
Duke’s win evens its record at 11-11, 3-7 in the ACC. It was Duke’s ninth win in the last 10 meetings with Carolina and cuts UNC’s all-time advantage to 50-48.
Duke shot a season-best 65.9 percent from the field. Only Jayda Adams (0-for-1) shot less than 50 percent from the field. Odom had 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Goodchild added 14 points, Akinbode-James eight rebounds.
Jade Williams led Duke with six assists, to go along with 13 points and seven rebounds. Bailey, her UNC counterpart, led the Tar Heels with 23 points and eight rebounds.
Williams ended the Duke scoring with an uncontested layup with 28 seconds left. Bailey was not amused, going out of her way in the post-game to chide Duke for not running out the clock and saying that Carolina would use this for motivation the next time the teams met.
Bailey ended the scoring with a layup, with three seconds left.
I’ll let others sort this out.
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