College Sports

Duke playing to sweep UNC -- and the extra rest would be nice too

UNC coach Roy Williams watches as Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) shoots a 3 in the Blue Devils’ 86-78 win over the Tar Heels on Feb. 9.
UNC coach Roy Williams watches as Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) shoots a 3 in the Blue Devils’ 86-78 win over the Tar Heels on Feb. 9. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Sure, No. 17 Duke is playing for an extra day off when it closes the regular season at No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday.

A win earns the Blue Devils either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament, which means they would have a double-bye and not play until Thursday’s quarterfinal round at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

If the Tar Heels (25-6, 13-4 ACC) beat Duke (23-7, 11-6), the Blue Devils would finish anywhere from fifth to seventh in the seedings and face playing in Wednesday’s second round.

For a team that’s battled -- and continues to battle -- a host of injury issues, that extra 24 hours without a game would seem important. But you won’t see this topic listed as a goal the Blue Devils players will have in mind.

“Our program is not about playing for double-byes,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said on Friday. “If we start doing that or because we haven’t beaten a team in four times or whatever, if we start playing for that then we’ve lost sight of who we are and what our goals are.”

March is when goals for programs like Duke and UNC are reached. The Tar Heels already have the ACC tournament’s No. 1 seed and a share of the regular-season title in hand.

Duke’s players are striving to sweep their rival and show that they are a championship contender both in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

“It would be great to win against North Carolina,” Duke freshman Jayson Tatum said, “but, you know, just to get another win under our belt to continue to grow as a team and a program. Just keep moving forward.”

Duke’s injured players were able to practice on Friday, but that doesn’t mean Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils wouldn’t welcome the extra day next week.

Senior forward Amile Jefferson will be fighting the effects of the bone bruise to his right foot the rest of the season.

Junior guard Grayson Allen hasn’t been as effective since spraining his left ankle in Duke’s 65-55 win at Virginia on Feb. 15. Allen missed last Saturday’s 55-50 loss at Miami and came off the bench when Duke beat Florida State 75-70 on Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Frank Jackson started the last two games and Krzyzewski said the freshman guard will be in the lineup again at UNC on Saturday night (8:20 p.m., ESPN).

“Grayson still isn’t 100 percent but he can play,” Krzyzewski said. “So we are monitoring how much we can use him in practice, if we use him in practice, and if he’s capable of playing. You can see in the last game that injury affected him. From where he was the last Carolina game, he’s not at that spot right now. Hopefully we can get him there. But Frank will start.”

When Duke beat UNC 86-78 on Feb. 9 -- part of the seven-game winning streak the Blue Devils put together through the middle of their ACC schedule -- Allen scored 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting. He made 7 of 12 3-pointers that night.

In the five games he’s played since, including the Virginia game where he suffered the injury, Allen has made just 10 of his last 42 shots from the field, a paltry 23.8 percent. He’s a 38.6 percent shooter for the season.

On 3-pointers, Allen has made just 7 of his last 28 -- 25 percent. That’s pulled his season average on 3-pointers down to 34.4 percent.

Krzyzewski sees a diminished ability for Allen to drive, so he’s taking more perimeter shots and having less success.

“If you take a look at him transition wise, he’s made a lot of mistakes in transition trying to complete,” Krzyzewski said. “Even against Florida State he did it. As he gets to that point where he would be explosive, it’s not the same. So his finishes, especially in transition, have not been where they were.”

Jackson showed the ability to score inside and out against Florida State. He scored 22 points by making 8 of 15 shots, including 3 of 4 3-pointers. He also found success driving through the lane as the Seminoles decided to guard Duke’s wing players, usually sharp-shooters Tatum and Luke Kennard.

Jefferson, meanwhile, enters the UNC rematch coming off his best game since injuring his foot on Jan. 7. The 6-9 redshirt senior made all six of his shots from the field against Florida State to score 14 points with 11 rebounds.

Though he averages 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds this season, it’s the first double-double he’s produced since December.

“His injury is still there,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not going away. It’s better. He’s learned how to manage it well.”

The Blue Devils have managed all the distractions and interruptions of this season well enough to own 10 wins over teams rated in the top 50 of the RPI. No one in the country has more.

On the final night of the regular season, the Blue Devils aim to add another.

“It’s another chance for us to get better,” Kennard said. “We’re playing against a really good team. It’s another chance to win another game. That’s what we are looking to do. We are not focused on the future, where we will be placed or anything like that. We are focused on the next game.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

No. 17 Duke at No. 5 UNC

When: 8:20 p.m. Saturday

Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

TV: ESPN

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