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Duke women’s basketball avenges regular-season losses, ousts UNC in ACC quarterfinal

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North Carolina’s Deja Kelly drives past Duke’s Celeste Taylor during the first half of an ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game on Friday, March 3, 2023, at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.

North Carolina’s Deja Kelly drives past Duke’s Celeste Taylor during the first half of an ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game on Friday, March 3, 2023, at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.

kmckeown@newsobserver.com

In a tense, hard-fought rivalry battle where the teams combined for just three made shots in the fourth quarter, No. 13 Duke finally solved No. 18 North Carolina to advance in the ACC women’s basketball tournament.

Elizabeth Balogun’s free throws with just under two minutes to play put Duke up for good and the Blue Devils held on to beat UNC, 44-40, in the ACC tournament quarterfinals at Greensboro Coliseum.

After losing twice to the Tar Heels in the regular season, the Blue Devils (25-5) won despite hitting just one field goal in the fourth quarter. UNC hit only 2 of 16 shots in the final stanza, including 3-point attempts by Deja Kelly with 45 seconds left and Eva Hodgson with 39 seconds left that would have put UNC in front.

After Shayeann Day-Wilson split two free throws with 31.6 seconds left to put Duke up 43-40, Kelly missed two jumpers before Reigan Richardson blocked Kennedy Todd-Williams’ 3-point attempt with four seconds left.

Day-Wilson was fouled with four seconds left and hit a free throw to put the game out of reach.

The No. 2-seeded Blue Devils advance to Saturday’s ACC tournament semifinals where they will play either No. 3 seed Virginia Tech or No. 6 seed Miami. The Hokies and Hurricanes play the tournament’s final quarterfinal game Friday night.

Earlier Friday, No. 1 seed Notre Dame beat No. 8 seed N.C. State, 66-60, while No. 4 seed Louisville ousted No. 12 seed Wake Forest, 74-48. Louisville (22-10) and No. 10-ranked Notre Dame (25-4) play at noon on Saturday with Duke vs. Virginia Tech or Miami semifinal to follow.

The seventh-seeded Tar Heels (21-10), who shot 24.2% on Friday night, head back to Chapel Hill to await their NCAA tournament fate.

Balogun scored 11 points to lead Duke while Richardson scored 10. The Blue Devils won despite shooting 32% and hitting just 4 of 18 3-pointers. They turned the ball over 19 times.

While Duke endured 4:30 of scoreless play in the fourth quarter, UNC grabbed a 40-38 lead as Anya Poole scored a pair of baskets. Then the Tar Heels hit a scoreless stretch.

Richardson tied the game with a jump shot at 2:40 and Balogun’s two free throws with 1:58 left gave Duke a 42-40 lead.

UNC had a chance to take the lead when Hodgson stole the ball from Balogun with 49 seconds to play. But Kelly and Hodgson missed 3-pointers and Duke regained possession with 31.6 seconds to play.

A pair of Hodgson 3-pointers early in the third quarter helped UNC open a 30-21 lead. But Duke responded with seven consecutive points, including a Balogun 3-pointer.

Duke trailed 34-31 when Taylor went to the free throw line with 1:05 left in the quarter. She made her first free throw. She missed the second, but Mia Heide rebounded and scored tying the game at 34.

Ustby’s shot in the lane gave the Tar Heels a 36-34 lead after three quarters.

As difficult as the teams had putting the ball in the basket last Sunday, it was equally as vexing five days later. Duke finished the first half with 13 turnovers, and eight made baskets, to trail UNC, 24-19.

The Tar Heels hit only 8 of 27 shots in the first half. But after Duke led 9-8 after the first quarter, UNC hit two of its first three shots in the second quarter to take a 13-11 lead on Ustby’s 3-pointer.

Taylor sank a 3-pointer with 5:14 left in the half, tying the score at 14.

But UNC put together a 10-2 run, fueled by Kelly, to open an eight-point lead.

Kelly scored on a baseline jumper before adding a jump shot from the lane. After Richardson took a pass in the lane from Taylor and scored, Kelly answered by hitting a 3-pointer from the right corner while drawing a foul. Her free throw with 2:05 left until halftime gave UNC a 22-16 lead.

Duke turned the ball over on its next two possessions and Todd-Williams made two free throws giving the Tar Heels a 24-16 lead with 1:10 until halftime.

Balogun’s 3-pointer with 9.3 seconds left in the half allowed UNC to lead 24-19 at halftime.

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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