No. 7 Duke dumps No. 19 UNC to capture ACC title

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie keeps her team hungry in an unconventional way: by winning more championships.

Her Blue Devils (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) claimed their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title Sunday, pulling away late to defeat No. 19 North Carolina 81-66 behind 21 points from tournament MVP Jasmine Thomas.

"A lot of people think these types of things get teams complacent. I think totally the opposite," McCallie said. "When teams like this start cutting down nets and having fun and seeing balloons and enjoying their teammates, I think they want it more. I think it really builds the hunger."

Freshman Haley Peters added 14 points and Karima Christmas had 13 for the top-seeded Blue Devils (29-3), who held the rival Tar Heels (25-8) scoreless for a critical span of 6½ minutes down the stretch.

Jessica Breland scored 27 points for North Carolina, and her free throw put the Tar Heels up 54-53 with 9:28 left. Duke then reeled off 15 straight points as part of a 20-2 run to take command and beat its top Tobacco Road rival for the second time in eight days.

Allison Vernerey finished with 10 points for Duke, the first team to repeat as ACC tournament champion since North Carolina won the event four straight years beginning in 2005. The Blue Devils, who won the tournament for the seventh time, enter their 17th straight NCAA tournament on a six-game winning streak.

"What we did this weekend was just another step," center Krystal Thomas said. "Now we have more steps to come with the NCAA tournament."

McCallie led Duke to its fourth ACC title game in four seasons at the school, with Jasmine Thomas her point guard all four years. This time, the Blue Devils ran away with it down the stretch against a North Carolina team that appeared gassed.

The sixth-seeded Tar Heels, who were trying to become the first ACC team to win four tournament games in four days, were outrebounded 38-27 and allowed Duke to shoot 46 percent. North Carolina didn't allow any of its other three tournament opponents to shoot better than 36 percent.

"It's hard to play four days in a row like that, but we put ourselves in that position," coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "If we maybe were a little fresher, we might have been able to pull it out, make some of those shots around the basket."

Krystal Thomas put the Blue Devils ahead to stay with a jumper in the lane with 9 minutes left, and Peters and Jasmine Thomas hit spirit-breaking 3-pointers during the run. Peters capped the burst with a free throw to make it 73-56 with 2:35 remaining.

"The team on the court took charge," McCallie said. "There's always a higher level. At no point can you get satisfied. There's always something that you can do better and that you can chase after, and I thought this team was chasing after better teams by really pushing themselves to do well on the floor."

Italee Lucas had 11 points and Chay Shegog finished with 10 for the Tar Heels, who came to Greensboro on a four-game losing streak but certainly got things turned around while they were here.

"We definitely got our swag back the last four days," Lucas said.

They looked impressive for much of the week, upsetting third-seeded Florida State and second-seeded Miami -- both by double figures -- to reach the championship game for the 16th time before being denied their 10th title and first since 2008.

Breland, who became the league's feel-good story when she returned after sitting out the 2009-10 season because of Hodgkin's lymphoma, followed up her season-best 28-point performance against Miami in the semifinals by nearly willing the Tar Heels to the title.

"Even getting beat, I thought she might get MVP," Hatchell said of Breland.

She reeled off three quick baskets in a 2-minute stretch and put North Carolina up 51-49 with a spinning layup with just over 11 minutes left. By the time the Tar Heels hit another field goal -- Breland's banked-in jumper with just over 3 minutes left -- they were down double digits to stay.

Duke and North Carolina split the regular-season series, with each team winning on its home court -- including Duke's 66-58 victory a week earlier in Durham. The first 30 minutes of Round 3 were a tight affair, with 12 ties and nine lead changes before the Blue Devils broke the game open late to improve to 5-3 in ACC championship matchups with their arch rivals.