Duke must find way to solve Notre Dame to return to top of ACC

Notre Dame and Duke set to meet Sunday in the Women's ACC Championship (2:35)

Notre Dame will look to win its 4th straight ACC title when they take on Duke Sunday in the Women's ACC Championship. (2:35)

CONWAY, S.C. -- If Notre Dame is to win a fourth straight ACC women's basketball championship, it's only fitting it will have to go through Duke to do it.

The Fighting Irish overcame foul trouble and 26 points from Louisville's Asia Durr on Saturday to eliminate the Cardinals 84-73 in the first semifinal of the ACC tournament at HTC Center, Coastal Carolina's cozy home arena.

Third-seeded Duke escaped Miami 57-52 in the afternoon's second game to win its 10th straight. The Hurricanes (23-8), who upset second-seeded Florida State on Friday, looked primed to pull off another surprise behind 17 points from Keyona Hayes. Instead, the Blue Devils' poise down the stretch, which included a 3-point play from Lexie Brown, lifted them to their first conference championship game since 2014.

The Fighting Irish (29-3) will be vying for a place alongside the Blue Devils (27-4) in ACC history on Sunday when the championship game tips off at 1 p.m. (ESPN2).

Remember when Duke owned this thing? From 2000 to 2004, everything ACC -- regular-season and conference championships -- belonged to the Blue Devils. They added tournament titles in 2010 and 2013, amassing eight overall.

The Irish can match it, and maybe even go one better: A win would give them five outright regular-season and conference titles in a row dating back to their final year in the Big East. To add more juice to the storyline, they were also the last team to beat the Blue Devils, a 62-58 victory in South Bend, Indiana, on Jan. 26.

Despite Notre Dame's committing just five turnovers -- impressive, especially considering starting point guard Lindsay Allen sat with two fouls for all of the second quarter -- coach Muffet McGraw wasn't overly complimentary.

"We were just OK today, but we're not going to talk about that game. We're just going to move on," she said. "We're in survive-and-advance mode right now."

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie lauds her players for being very much in the moment, but they are also conscious of this program's legacy in the ACC and what another conference title would represent.

"We walk around our locker-room hallways and all you see is history -- the pictures hanging up and the title banners," said sophomore guard Kyra Lambert. "People came before us and we're just trying to fill those shoes and put up another banner."

Added Duke leading scorer Brown, who had 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals Sunday: "We want to bring it back to Duke. I remember growing up, the ACC was Duke's league."

Duke was left out of the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1994. Azura Stevens, who averaged nearly 19 points and 9.6 rebounds, transferred to UConn, along with other departures. McCallie weathered an internal review that found no mistreatment of players on her part.

From the outside, it hardly looked like the Blue Devils were ready to make a national statement.

But it was another story from the inside. "We're the only ones who believed," said McCallie, whose team wasn't ranked in the preseason Top 25 and was picked to finish sixth in the ACC.

The potential showed during summer workouts. "There were no cliques," senior forward Oderah Chidom said.

But there was competitive fire. A simple sprinting drill -- a run to half court and back -- turned into "The Great Race" between Rebecca Greenwell and Brown.

"We had to quit because we couldn't walk up and down the floor," said Greenwell, who scored eight, including two fourth-quarter 3-pointers, against Miami.

That level of energy carried over to this season, which has produced few hiccups. There was a four-point loss at Vanderbilt on Nov. 20, along with road losses at Florida State, NC State and the game at Notre Dame. The overall résumé is strong, as victories over South Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Miami (twice) have prompted a No. 3 seed in Charlie Creme's most recent Bracketology.

Duke is 1-14 all-time against Notre Dame and 0-6 versus the Fighting Irish on a neutral court. The Blue Devils' lone victory over the Irish: 20 years ago in Durham, North Carolina.

"We haven't won an ACC championship since I've been here," Greenwell said. "But it's nothing new for Duke and the university. We're just trying to get back to that platform that Duke used to be at a few years ago when Alana Beard was here and they had that streak going."

Greenwell is too young to remember specific highlights from Beard, Duke's first national player of the year.

"But we all know about the past," she said. "We're just going to represent Duke basketball and show we can get back there."