Duke (17-9, 6-6 ACC) is a team that is firmly on the bubble. Before the game, ESPN's Charlie Creme had them on his last four in list. They are not used to being in this position. Two weeks ago they had their streak of 312 weeks as a ranked team broken. The Blue Devils have been fighting injuries all season and on February 1 they sustained their most damaging injury of all. Sophomore forward Azura Stevens sustained a plantar fascia injury in her left foot against Notre Dame. Stevens (19.1pts, 9.4rebs) was putting together an ACC Player of the Year type season. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils she had to miss this game which was her third straight on the sidelines. Florida State (20-4, 10-1 ACC) took advantage and won the game 69-53.
FSU has not had much success in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tonight they got their first win there since 2001 when current assistant coach Brooke Wyckoff led the team with 20 points. However had success tonight as the Seminoles won their school record 10th straight ACC game. The Noles used a balanced offense to get the victory. Shakayla Thomas led the way with 14 points and Kai James (11 pts) and Maria Conde (10 pts) joined her in double figures.
Although FSU jumped out to an 8-2 lead the game was disjointed from the beginning. There were a lot of fouls being called (25 in the first half) and both teams struggled to find a rhythm. Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie loves to switch defenses and she did this all night against the Seminoles. The Blue Devils started in man to man but switched often to zones. The only constant was that Duke applied 94 feet of ball pressure against FSU's guards for the entire game. The Blue Devils did a good job of forcing FSU to take the entire 30 second shot clock to run their offense. There were several times when FSU had to struggle to get up a shot to beat the shot clock and a few times the Noles were called for a shot clock violation.
FSU was able to earn a 15-6 lead in the first quarter but Duke forward Rebecca Greenwell responded with five straight points to cut the lead to 15-11 to end the quarter. Maria Conde answered with five straight points of her own to give FSU a nine point lead. From there the teams mostly traded baskets until halftime where FSU enjoyed a 27-20 lead.
Florida State started the second half on an 8-0 run but Duke refused to go away as Amber Henson and Angela Salvadores kept the Blue Devils close. Both teams went on mini-runs to end the quarter but FSU enjoyed a 45-35 lead to begin the fourth.
In the fourth quarter Kai James stepped up for FSU. She had nine points and five rebounds in the quarter. James did a great job carving out space down low but I wish she would delete that rhythm dribble from her game. Despite that she was able to power the Seminoles in the last quarter.
Overall, FSU played reasonably well. There were too many turnovers (19) by the Noles but they again dominated on the boards winning that battle 43-32. They did a great job with defensive rebounding holding Duke to several one shot possessions. The Blue Devils only had eight offensive rebounds in the game. The most encouraging sign for FSU was that they had a variety of players who contributed. No starters were in double figures for FSU but they had three reserves who hit that mark.
Duke simply didn't have the scoring punch to hang with the Noles especially with Stevens watching from the bench. FSU held Duke to 39% shooting on the night. Duke's only real hope in this game was to have a great shooting night to put pressure on FSU and to neutralize the Seminoles' advantage on the glass. They weren't able to get that done and FSU was able to get a good road victory. This game was closer than the score indicates but Duke never led or tied the score at any point in the game.
With this win FSU moves into a tie for second place in the ACC with Louisville.
Florida State returns home to take on North Carolina (14-12, 4-7 ACC) on Sunday February 14 at 2pm (ESPN 2).
The Tar Heels have had a tumultuous year to say the least. In 2013 UNC signed the best recruiting class in the nation. It featured Diamond DeShields (#3 overall recruit according to HoopGurlz), Allisha Gray (#7), Jessica Washington (#14), and Stephanie Mavunga (#23). This is the type of class that is supposed to put you in the thick of the national championship race. Instead everything has fallen apart for the Heels. Every single player in that celebrated class has transferred. DeShields transferred to Tennessee last year. She sat out last season and has three years remaining starting this season. Gray (15.8 pts 7.6 rebs) was UNC's best player last year. She announced her transfer to South Carolina. She will miss this year and have two years remaining for the Gamecocks. Washington transferred to Kansas and Mavunga (14.4 pts 9.8 rebs) transferred to Ohio State. None of the players announced reasons for the transfer but it is safe to say that the academic scandal had something to do with it.
One bright spot for the Heels was that they were getting rugged rebounder Xylina McDaniel (8.7pts, 6.8rebs) back from a season ending leg injury she sustained in December of last year. Unfortunately for UNC, McDaniel (daughter of former NBA All-Star Xavier McDaniel) suffered a season ending ACL injury against Georgia Tech on Jan 14th. Coach Sylvia Hatchell was also suspended by the university for one game for bumping an official. She was suspended for another game by the NCAA for a Level III rules violation.
With all of this attrition, the Tar Heels are at a talent disadvantage against much of the ACC. This will definitely be the case when they show up in Tallahassee. UNC basically only plays six players. They are a little below average shooting overall (.395 FG) but they really struggle from three (.267). Sophomore guard Jamie Cherry leads the team in points and assists. She has done her best to steady the ship. Cherry gets help from Stephanie Watts (13.6pts, 6.8 rebs) and Destinee Walker (13.5pts, 3.8rebs) on the wings.
UNC is working on a two game winning streak with wins at Boston College (86-78) and tonight at home against Virginia Tech (71-67). However, as we know FSU is very tough to beat at home (30 straight home wins) and this has been a very tough year for the Heels on a number of levels. It would take by far their best effort of the year to even keep this game close. Sagarin has FSU as 23 point favorites.