GREENSBORO, NC -- Duke blew out archrival UNC in an anticlimactic finale of an ACC tournament that up to that point had seen many exciting games and lots of back-and-forth scoring battles. In fact, Duke's toughest game was actually against the other main in-state rival, N.C. State, the team that knocked the Blue Devils out of the quarterfinals last year.
Tricia Liston had 26 points in that game for Duke, as the Devils wiped out a four-point deficit with seven minutes to go with a 26-8 finishing run. The Devils were tied late with Florida State before frosh point guard sensation Alexis Jones scored on a runner and then a steal to give Duke enough of a cushion to pull away at the end. In comparison, the Heels proved to be easy pickings for Duke, as the Devils broke open a close game with seven minutes to go in the first half with an 18-4 run built on turning the Heels over. That gave Duke a 15-point halftime lead, one that the Blue Devils quickly built upon in the first five minutes of the second half. Tournament MVP Jones scored six points and dished two assists to give Duke a 23-point lead. The Heels began a slow march in an effort to come back, getting as close as 16, but Duke had an answer every time. This is Duke's eighth ACC tournament title, tying them with the Heels for second-best all-time.
The Heels got to the finals by barely getting by scrappy Boston College and then coming back on Maryland in the semifinals. Maryland led by 14 at the half of that game behind their imposing front line, but the Heels chipped away at the Terps. Maryland, whose injuries have forced them to use a six-player rotation for much of the year, started to lose their legs midway through the second half. Deep UNC reserve Latifah Coleman stunningly scored 15 of her 17 points in the last five minutes of the game, completing the comeback. Of course, the Terps were a bit worn out by their classic quarterfinal matchup with Wake Forest, a game that went into overtime. Behind freewheeling guard Chelsea Douglas, the Deacs led by as many as eight, forcing Maryland into scramble mode.
ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas had the first triple-double in ACC history, and her Terps needed every one of those stats to beat the scrappy Deacs, whose legs gave out on them right before the end of regulation. With the exception of #10 seed Wake Forest beating #7 seed Georgia Tech behind another scintillating game by Douglas and #11 seed Boston College defeating a tired and hurt #6 seed Virgina, this was pretty much a chalk tournament. The Heels were a #3 seed thanks to a coin flip but the reality is that all of these teams didn't have the depth and talent of Duke, and the Devils needed as much of both as possible after losing three players to season-ending injuries
Duke is a lock to be an NCAA two seed somewhere, with a tiny chance of being a one seed depending on how certain conference tournaments shake out. Look for them to be in either Norfolk or Spokane. Maryland should hang on to a No. 2 seed, given that both Tennessee and Penn State have suffered losses and that UNC lost so decisively to Duke. The Heels will be a three seed somewhere, thanks to beating Maryland. Florida State should be solid as a six, thanks to beating Maryland late in the year and not laying an egg in the ACC tournament.
Miami is the one team nervously eyeing other conference tournaments. Beating Duke (and Penn State earlier in the year) gives the Hurricane some impressive wins to hang their hat on. They're in the low 40s in the RPI and should make it, barring muliple upsets in those tournaments. Virginia will not accept a WNIT bid, while N.C. State will almost certainly accept one if offered, which should happen.
Finally, the All-Tournament team:
Alexis Jones, Duke
Alyssa Thomas, Maryland
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, UNC
Haley Peters, Duke
Elizabeth Williams, Duke
Tianna Hawkins, Maryland
Chelsea Douglas, Wake Forest
Latifah Coleman, UNC
Waltiea Rolle, UNC
Tricia Liston, Duke