Here are a few things to watch this weekend in the Atlantic Coast Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
No. 7 Duke at North Carolina. One of the biggest rivalries in college basketball will be played at the Dean Smith Center on Saturday. It’s the first of two meetings between the Tobacco Road rivals. But this meeting is unlike any in recent memory with North Carolina (10-12, 3-8) having only escaped the ACC basement on Wednesday because co-cellar-dwellers Miami and Wake Forest lost. But things could be looking up for Roy Williams’ squad with the continuing return to the lineup of Cole Anthony from knee surgery. Things haven’t clicked just yet for the Tar Heels with their top scorer back in the fold – they’ve lost both games since his return – but there’s often nothing like a showdown with the Blue Devils (19-3, 9-2) and a chance to get a huge victory to energize the arena.
Neither No. 8 Florida State (plays Miami on Saturday) nor the Blue Devils will have much time to regroup before the Seminoles hit the road to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night. It’s the only regular-season meeting between the teams, two of only three ranked programs in the ACC. Florida State (19-3, 9-2) heads into its home game against Hurricanes having won 12 of 13, but all three of its losses have come on the road. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, have stumbled twice at Cameron, losing to Stephen F. Austin in late November and No. 5 Louisville, the league’s top-ranked team, in mid-January.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Braxton Key of Virginia missed three games earlier in the season after wrist surgery and has been playing with a cast, and then gradually less intrusive bandaging, on his left hand for the Cavaliers’ last 12 games. The protection clearly affected his ball-handling, and his shooting, but he seems to be coming around at the right time. Following a 2-for-16 shooting debacle in victory at Wake Forest, Key scored 13 points in a home victory against the Seminoles and then added 19 (and eight rebounds) in Wednesday night’s victory against Clemson. After entering the game against the Tigers 8 for 45 on 3-point attempts, he was 4 for 6, including two in the late going when the Tigers closed to within a possession. The offensively challenged reigning national champions Cavaliers take a three-game winning streak to Louisville on Saturday.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Besides Louisville, Duke and Florida State, reigning national champion Virginia (15-6, 7-4), with one point, is the only other ACC school to get a vote in this week’s Top 25. … Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. is on a roll heading into the Blue Devils’ big week. He averaged 26 points and 15 rebounds last week in victories against Pittsburgh and Syracuse. … Notre Dame’s John Mooney is up to 18 double-doubles for the season after a 17-point, 10-rebound effort in an 80-72 victory against Pittsburgh. The Irish (14-8, 5-6) have won three straight. … Virginia’s 51-44 victory against Clemson marked the 10th time the Cavaliers have held an opponent below 50 points this season.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
Second-year coach Tina Thompson is still working to get things turned around at Virginia (9-13, 4-7), but the signs of improvement are there. One reason is the impressive play of Cavaliers senior Jocelyn Willoughby. She leads the ACC in scoring (19.3, 21st nationally), is seventh in field goal percentage (.450) and 10th in rebounding (7.9). Her free throw percentage (.872) is second in the league and 17th nationally, and she’s coming off 24 points in 27 minutes in a 57-41 victory against Syracuse on Sunday. The point total for the Orange was the lowest allowed by Virginia this year and Syracuse’s lowest since a 68-40 loss to Rutgers on Feb. 14, 2007.
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