UNC-Duke meeting lacking some of usual luster
There have been seasons when the Duke-North Carolina matchups are among the biggest games of the year in all of women's basketball. This year, those two contests are still biggies but both teams enter the first of two regular-season meetings a little deflated.
Sixth-ranked Duke lost its most recent game, Thursday at Boston College. And No. 15 Carolina has lost two in a row, at home last Monday to Florida State and at Miami on Thursday.
So neither is exactly coming in with a big head of steam as Duke and UNC face off at Cameron Indoor Stadium at 7 ET Monday on ESPN2.
The disparity between the media ranking (9 spots) and that of the coaches last week for the Tar Heels, of course, reflected that the coaches poll doesn't come out until Tuesday. Thus, they were voting after the Tar Heels lost at home last Monday to Florida State.
Following that game -- in which North Carolina fell behind big, rallied, but never could quite wrest away the lead from the Seminoles -- coach Sylvia Hatchell ripped her team for failing at one thing UNC traditionally does well: rebound.
The Seminoles outrebounded the Heels 47-32, prompting Hatchell to call a 6 a.m. practice for the next day to work on the boards. She also said her team had lost its edge and that opponents weren't in fear of the Heels at all.
And she has a point there. People can -- and do -- criticize Hatchell for her coaching philosophy and feel she wastes possessions and well, everyone knows the standard complaints about Carolina.
But at the very least in the ACC, that style has intimidated its foes and worked well for quite some time against everybody except you-know-who. And it has worked against them, too, in recent years.
The series history: UNC leads Duke 45-31, but the rivalry has had two periods of one-sidedness in the past decade-plus. From 1999-2004, Duke won 15 of 16 meetings, including a stretch of 12 in a row.
From 2005 through last year, Carolina won nine of 12. The teams split their meetings last season, with UNC winning in Chapel Hill 75-60, but Duke winning in Durham, 81-79, in overtime.
Duke is 18-4 and 6-1 going into Monday's game; UNC is 16-4 and a middle-of-the-pack 4-3 in the ACC. The fact that it's Duke vs. Carolina does over-ride everything, of course, so there will still be a lot of excitement.
UNC's Jessica Breland, who is redshirting this season after battling cancer this summer, is feeling very good and doing some workouts. And sitting on the bench is difficult for her; she gets restless wishing she could go into the game. That especially will be the case against Duke.
And what about the Blue Devils? They seemed to have rebounded well from their crunching loss to UConn -- a fate the Tar Heels also shared, by the way -- and had dispatched all their ACC opponents until going to BC on Thursday. That trip did have "danger" marked on it for Duke because the Eagles are 4-1 at home in ACC play, but 0-3 on the road.
Duke has won this season with stifling defense (as is going to be the case under coach Joanne P. McCallie). Even after giving up a whopping 61 points to BC, the Blue Devils still lead the ACC by a considerable margin in defense during league play. In their seven ACC games, Duke has allowed an average of just 50.4 points.
On the other end of that spectrum is Carolina, last in the league during ACC play in defense at 73.4. But, not surprisingly, the Tar Heels are first in offense at 75.7 ppg.
So Monday will be, to say the least, a contrast in styles. A loss would drop Duke into a tie for first place with Florida State (although the Blue Devils won their head-to-head matchup by 30 points).
A loss would drop Carolina to a .500 ACC record. The Heels haven't lost more than five games in the ACC since the 2000-01 season, when they were 7-9; that was the only year in the last 13 in which Carolina did not make the NCAA tournament.
It doesn't seem likely Carolina is really going to fall out of NCAA contention. But Hatchell wants her players to realize it's not as if that is out of the realm of possibility if they don't take care of business. Even if they don't beat Duke, they need to play well enough to get some positive feelings back, with Boston College visiting and a trip to Virginia coming up next.
So while Monday's game won't have a top-of-the-rankings luster to it, it still has some significant consequences.