Women's Basketball: Duke, UNC atop national rankings
By Joedy McCreary
DURHAM — Gail Goestenkors can’t see how the Duke-North Carolina rivalry could get any spicier, not even with the Blue Devils and Tar Heels emerging as the nation’s two best teams.
“If neither of us were ranked at all, it’d still be this intense rivalry,” the Duke coach said Tuesday. “It just heightens everything a little bit more, but it can’t change the rivalry too much because it’s pretty intense regardless.”
It’s becoming a familiar sight atop the women’s basketball poll: No. 1 Duke (18-0) and No. 2 North Carolina (20-0) hold the top spots, the second straight season that’s happened. With a little more than three weeks before their first meeting, the Tobacco Road rivals are the only remaining teams with perfect records.
They’re separated geographically by about 9 miles and in the poll by 23 points. And they’re out to show their rivalry is equally as entertaining, intense and competitive as the one dominated by Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and their men’s programs.
“I think we make each other better,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “The fact that we’re so close to each other and players go back and forth to the games. We shop at the same mall. We go to the same movie theaters. We share the same newspaper.
“Everybody for years and years has talked about the rivalry of our men, which is just tremendous,” she added. “But I think our women’s rivalry is just as good.”
Last season produced the first 1-vs.-2 matchup in series history. North Carolina entered at No. 2 but upset the top-ranked Blue Devils 77-65 on Feb. 25, 2006, to sweep the season series 2-0, win its sixth straight in the series and finish the regular season ranked No. 1.
This year, both teams face tough road games which could derail another 1-2 meeting. Duke visits No. 4 Tennessee on Jan. 22 while six days later North Carolina plays at No. 3 Maryland. If they both win, their game in Chapel Hill on Feb. 8 could be huge.
“We’ve got 20 wins, and we’ve beaten Tennessee and Connecticut, which is great, but it’s still early,” Hatchell said. “It’s only the middle of January and we’ve still got to play each other.”
Hatchell mentioned the rankings to motivate her Tar Heels at halftime of their game Monday night against Connecticut.
Apparently, it worked: North Carolina played well in the clutch and beat the Huskies 82-76.
“It doesn’t matter what the rankings say,” forward Erlana Larkins said. “We’ll get a chance in the (ACC) to play Maryland and play Duke, but being No. 1 doesn’t matter to me.”