No. 6 Duke women claim ACC crown by routing UNC
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Duke’s key players exited the game one at a time, a blowout victory securely in hand, and Chelsea Gray came off the bench to greet each one with a huge bear hug.
These new-look Blue Devils proved they can win a championship without their injured star — and now it’s time to chase an even bigger trophy.
No. 6 Duke claimed its eighth Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title by routing No. 15 North Carolina 92-73 on Sunday in the title game.
Freshman Alexis Jones, who slid over to replace Gray at point guard, scored a career-high 24 points and was voted MVP of the tournament.
“I just know Lex has taken this opportunity and really stepped up, and that’s important,” coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She’s a great guard; Chelsea’s a great guard. They play beautifully together. They play well individually. ... There (are) things we don’t control. We don’t control the fact that Chelsea can’t play, and we do control what we can do, and I think Lex has been amazing.”
Elizabeth Williams also had 24 points, and Haley Peters scored 17 for the top-seeded Blue Devils (30-2).
“We feed off each other, so we’re learning each other a lot every time we play with each other,” Jones said.
Duke led by as many as 26, shot nearly 57 percent and outrebounded North Carolina by six to cruise to its third title in four years.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt scored all 25 of her points in the second half for the third-seeded Tar Heels (28-6), who missed 25 of 28 shots during the stretch when Duke stretched its lead into the 20s. UNC was denied its 10th crown and lost its seventh straight in the series.
“We started out pretty good, and then we started missing some shots, and they were able to get the ball inside and Elizabeth was able to do some of her damage early on,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “We get in these spells where we’re getting some pretty good shots, but we’re missing them.”
Williams reached double figures for the 19th straight time against an ACC opponent and set a league record by blocking a shot in her 65th straight game.
The most lopsided ACC title game since North Carolina beat Duke by 21 in 2005 capped an otherwise tight four days in Greensboro. In nine of the tournament’s first 10 games, the outcome was in serious doubt heading down the stretch. But Duke never led by fewer than 16 during the final 17 minutes of this one.
Both of Jones’ best games have come against the Tar Heels: She hung 22 points on them eight days earlier at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke is 6-1 without Gray, the ACC co-player of the year whose season ended Feb. 17 when she dislocated her kneecap.
“They’re probably a better team with Alexis Jones out there than they were with Chelsea Gray,” Hatchell said.
The Blue Devils won by 21 points with her last month in Chapel Hill, and they beat UNC 65-58 without her last week in Durham. The two teams met for the ninth time in an ACC title game, with eight of those coming since 2000, and Duke improved to 6-3 in those matchups.
The Blue Devils also moved to 5-0 this season against their archrivals in men’s and women’s basketball.
In this one, Duke erased an early six-point deficit with a 29-6 run over an 11-minute stretch late in the half, a burst that included streaks of 11 and 14 consecutive points.
Latifah Coleman and Walteia Rolle scored 10 points apiece for North Carolina. The Tar Heels, who missed 19 consecutive shots in their visit to Durham a week ago, went cold again — missing on 15 of their final 17 attempts of the half as they fell way behind.
“I think we have to take a lot of pride (in defense),” McCallie said, “because it’s your defense and your rebounding that can take you to the next level.”
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at (at)JoedyAP.