- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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DURHAM, N.C. -- This turned out just like we figured it would, right? A young North Carolina team came into historic and intimidating Cameron Indoor Stadium on a three-game losing streak, got rattled by an older, more experienced Duke squad and had to learn another tough lesson. Sorry, kiddos, better luck next time.
Yeah, that's what you'd think was supposed to happen Monday night in another renewal of the "Battle of the Blues." But, in fact, it's not what took place at all.
Instead, it went like this: The freshmen-led Tar Heels walked in like they owned this building. Cameron Crazies, meet Diamond DeShields. Diamond, meet the Crazies.
And Round 1 goes to ... D-squared. North Carolina's much-lauded rookie had her highest point total of the season -- 30 -- as the No. 17 Tar Heels upset No. 3 Duke 89-78 on what was a particularly big Monday for the visitors from nearby Chapel Hill.
"I will never forget this," DeShields said of her first memory of competing on Duke's home floor. "I'm so happy I got a chance to play here, and do it with my teammates and win here. I'm proud to be a part of the history that's come through Cameron Indoor."
Meanwhile, pride was the last thing the Blue Devils were feeling Monday. This defeat followed an 88-67 home loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 2. It's the first time since 1994 that Duke has lost back-to-back home games. (There was a road win between those -- Feb. 6 at Clemson -- but that's not of much consolation now.)
All things considered, this was the Tar Heels' best game of what has been a challenging season. Coach Sylvia Hatchell is battling leukemia but has kept close contact with her team, which is being led by longtime assistant Andrew Calder.
After losses to Syracuse, Miami and Georgia Tech -- by a combined total of 11 points -- North Carolina was at a crossroad in the season. Even if the Tar Heels themselves didn't look at things as being that dire, their coaching staff knew how important it was to reverse the tide.
To that end, Hatchell gave them another of her inspired pep talks ... and so did UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance. He of the 21 NCAA championships.
"He put a lot of things in perspective for me, and I'm sure for the rest of the team," DeShields said of Dorrance, who spoke to the team Sunday. "He talked about self-discipline, competitive fire and self-belief. I couldn't thank him enough for doing that, because he didn't have to. That's something I'll carry on with me."
Even with the ACC's ballooning expansion, Duke versus Carolina is still the league's signature rivalry. The Blue Devils had won the past seven meetings between the two, and nine of the past 11. Duke had not lost to North Carolina in Cameron since 2008, which was coach Joanne P. McCallie's first season with the Blue Devils.
And entering this game, nothing was pointing to the Tar Heels ending Duke's winning streak against them. Duke's only two previous losses this season were to the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country, UConn and Notre Dame, who are both undefeated. The Blue Devils had ascended back to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll after Stanford's loss Sunday.
So everything seemed to indicate that Duke would take advantage of a UNC team on the skids. But from the tip Monday, the Tar Heels were "on." They never lost their composure or their edge in an arena where it's so easy to lose both. For that matter, they never lost the lead after taking it 10 seconds into the game on Allisha Gray's 3-pointer.
"You just gotta play your game," the freshman Gray said of dealing with Duke at Cameron.
But the thing is the Tar Heels actually didn't play "the game" they had been playing recently. Which was a good thing for them. Because in their three consecutive losses, UNC did not defend very well, made too many egregious turnovers (even by Carolina standards) and shot poorly from behind the arc.
Monday, all those things were pretty well reversed.
Yes, Duke center Elizabeth Williams had a career-high 28 points, while Tricia Liston added 20 and Alexis Jones 15. But when the Tar Heels needed to buckle down and make stops, they seemed to get them. Or at least, they answered on offense.
As for turnovers, hey, these are the Tar Heels. Of course, they are almost always going to throw away the ball a fair number of times. The difference Monday was that most of their 23 turnovers were more of the aggressive variety than the numskull variety. Plus, the Tar Heels forced 20 turnovers from Duke, and they scored 28 points off those. Duke, by contrast, scored 18 points off UNC miscues.
Then there was UNC's performance from behind the arc: The Tar Heels had 12 3-pointers Monday -- as many as their total from the past three games combined.
"They worked extremely hard the last few days," Calder said of his Tar Heels. "We went after them, and they responded."
Now, the question is how will Duke respond? This was a tough, tough loss for a team that has been hopeful of getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils have lost Chelsea Gray for the season, and fellow guard Chloe Wells is out indefinitely. Clearly, those absences have impacted Duke.
Still, this was not the kind of game McCallie wanted or expected from her team.
"For us, giving up 89 points at home is very bad," McCallie said. "Defense is something that this team generally wants other people to do. We don't get into defense. We're not taking charges. Our transition defense has been awful. People were wide open when they shouldn't have been. Defensive leadership on the floor -- demanding, pointing, executing -- is a big issue for us."
Which, when you consider the veterans on the Duke squad, is a serious concern. As down as the Blue Devils -- now 22-3 overall and 9-2 in the ACC -- looked after this game, the opposite was true of the players in Carolina blue. They're 18-6 and 6-4, and -- on this night -- felt on top of the world.
"We were tired of losing," DeShields said, "so we came out tonight and did whatever it took to get the win."
North Carolina's freshmen walked into Cameron Indoor like they owned it. By the final whistle, they'd helped the Tar Heels win their first game at Duke since 2008 and Diamond DeShields became the first player to score 30 points against the Blue Devils since 2009.