GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) Jasmine Thomas and No. 9 Duke are back in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game – and have the best chance of her career to win it.
The Blue Devils earned their third straight berth in the title game Saturday, pulling away late to beat Georgia Tech 67-55 in one semifinal.
Article continues below ...
Thomas scored all 10 of her points in the second half, Karima Christmas had 15 points and Joy Cheek added 10 on 4-of-13 shooting for the Blue Devils (26-5).
The only nationally ranked team left in the field used a late 20-7 run to earn its 31st straight win against the fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets and advance to the league title game for the third time in coach Joanne P. McCallie’s three seasons.
“We show great consistency in getting to the final, which is outstanding because you’ve got to get there,” McCallie said. “But to me, it’s a new year. Last year and the year before, those teams did a great job, too, and didn’t close it out or whatever. But to me, it’s a new year. It’s new team, and I just can’t wait. We’re just excited to be playing. I mean, we could be practicing, but we’re playing for a championship. I think playing is a whole lot better.”
In both of their previous trips, the Blue Devils held the No. 3 seed and were defeated in the title game by powerful No. 1 seeds, North Carolina in 2008 and Maryland last year.
The roles have flipped: This time it’s Duke that holds the No. 1 seed and figures to be a heavy favorite against sixth-seeded North Carolina State in Sunday’s championship game.
“Especially last year, we were right in the game, but we didn’t make the key stops that we needed to make or we didn’t hit the shots that we needed to hit or we didn’t control the tempo,” Thomas said. “Coming into tomorrow, no matter who we play, that’s going to be what we have to do, is control the game and come out ready to play.”
Alex Montgomery had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Georgia Tech (22-9), which hasn’t beaten Duke since 1994 and was denied its first berth in the ACC championship game since 1994.
“We feel as though we’re right there, knocking on the door,” coach MaChelle Joseph said. “We feel like we’re one player away from being a top-10 team. We have to have one more scorer. I think you saw today the play of Alex Montgomery. … Today was one of the best games I’ve ever seen her play.”
Duke, a five-time ACC champion, is in the title game for the 11th time and is chasing its first championship since winning five in a row from 2000-04.
Georgia Tech outrebounded Duke 38-28 and shot nearly 41 percent, but couldn’t overcome 26 turnovers.
The Blue Devils, who shot nearly 44 percent, trailed only once in the second half, and took the lead for good when Shay Selby hit two free throws with 11:23 remaining to make it 45-43.
That started the overwhelming run that pushed the Blue Devils’ lead into double figures for the first time: Cheek hit a key jumper seconds before Keturah Jackson ended the burst with a nifty hook shot that made it 63-50 with 2:47 left. Georgia Tech didn’t get closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“That’s what the tournament is about,” Cheek said. “You’re going to have tough games all the way through, and it was expected. But at the end, you have to make stops and you have to make scores. And we were able to do that.”
That’s at least partly because Georgia Tech went cold at the worst possible time. Montgomery’s 3 tied it at 43 with 11:42 to play, but the Yellow Jackets were held to three field goals after that.
“Give Duke all the credit, because they came out with tough defensive plays,” said center Sasha goodlett, who finished with 13 points. “All we talked about was going at them and trying to score and put the ball in the hole. … Basically, (Duke’s defenders were) just full fronting towards the end of the game.”
For Duke, this one was significantly more convincing than its 66-64 quarterfinal win a day earlier against Maryland. But it’s still the closest the Yellow Jackets have come to knocking the Blue Devils from the ACC tournament – Duke improved to 4-0 against them at the league’s centerpiece event with the previous meetings decided by at least 21 points apiece.
Deja Foster scored with 11 points and gave the Yellow Jackets their only lead of the second half when her layup made it 40-38 with 14:36 remaining.