Currie, Beard Carry Blue Devils Past Tar Heels, 87-80
By DAVID DROSCHAK
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Monique Currie scored a career-high 30 points and Alana Beard added 25 as No. 3 Duke completed a perfect run through the Atlantic Coast Conference with an 87-80 win over No. 16 North Carolina in the tournament championship Monday night.
The victory extended the Blue Devils' school-record winning streak to 18 and likely secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for a team that went 16-0 in league play and won its third straight ACC crown at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Beard, the ACC's leading scorer, was quiet most of the night, but saved her best for late. The sophomore guard scored 11 straight points down the stretch as Duke took control.
Top-seeded Duke (27-3) beat the second-seeded Tar Heels (24-8) by 20 and 15 during the season, but this one didn't come easy as the Blue Devils turned it over 21 times.
However, the Blue Devils shot 55 percent and were 26-for-29 from the foul line to pull out the close win over their archrival, which got 19 points each from Candace Sutton and Nikki Teasley.
North Carolina led 48-45 before scoring on five straight possessions to go up by 12 with 13:24 left.
Krista Gingrich then scored on a baseline shot and sank a 3-pointer, and Beard scored four points as Duke pulled to within one midway through the half.
But the Blue Devils failed on three straight possessions to take the lead, turning it over twice and missing a hurried 3-pointer by Gingrich after North Carolina lost the ball.
Duke finally got over the hump when Wynter Whitley hit a free throw and Beard scored on a driving layup for a 73-70 lead with 3:28 left.
Beard sank a 14-footer 37 seconds later and Duke was just minutes from another ACC tourney crown and its eighth straight NCAA appearance.
Duke trailed at the break for just the third time all season and the first time since Dec. 27 in an 89-68 loss to Tennessee.
The Tar Heels shot just 34 percent in the opening 20 minutes, but the Blue Devils turned it over 10 times as Beard and Iciss Tillis, Duke's two all-conference players, combined for just eight points.
Most of Duke's first-half offense came from Currie, who was 5-for-8 from the field and 10-of-10 from the foul line for 20 of her team's 37 points.
Her previous best was 23 points earlier this season against the Tar Heels.