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Duke Posts 1st Unbeaten Season In ACC

Seniors Alison Bales and Lindsey Harding led top-ranked Duke to its first unbeaten regular season. Now they're looking for something bigger _ a perfect postseason.

Bales had 16 points and 12 rebounds in her final home game and the Blue Devils pulled away late in a 67-62 victory over No. 4 North Carolina to seal the first undefeated season in Atlantic Coast Conference history.

"You don't get a banner that says 'undefeated for the season,'"' Bales said. "But it is an accomplishment, and we're really proud of what we've done so far this season, but ready for the next part of our season."

Harding added 15 points in her final home game for the Blue Devils (29-0, 14-0), who held the Tar Heels without a field goal for 7 minutes down the stretch while outscoring them 9-0 to remain on track for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"The thing that means the most to me is that it's something special for these two seniors, because nobody can top that," coach Gail Goestenkors said. "Now it's been their turn to shine. I think that's what makes me feel best about this season. It's something more than any other team has done."

Abby Waner added 13 points for Duke, which triumphed in what was its tightest home game of the season by far. The Blue Devils, who won each of their previous 13 games at Cameron Indoor Stadium by at least 10 points, couldn't put North Carolina away until the closing minutes.

Ivory Latta led North Carolina with 19 points, but was plagued by the same poor shooting that doomed her team in its previous loss to Duke. Latta finished 6-of-17 from the field for the Tar Heels (27-3, 11-3).

"I had some good looks. They didn't fall," Latta said.

Said Waner: "We were consciously aware of where she was at all times."

The Tar Heels led twice in the second half of this one, with their final lead coming when Camille Little's 3-pointer from the left wing made it 56-55 with 7:45 left.

But that was nearly it from the field for North Carolina. Duke clamped down in its zone defense and forced the Tar Heels into eight straight misses during a 7-minute stretch.

"When I saw them go zone, I actually was very happy, because we have been great against zone all year," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "Not many people play us zone, because our efficiency rating against the zone has been great. I was really disappointed that we didn't attack it the way we should have."

Harding scored in the lane to put Duke ahead to stay, 57-56, with about 5 minutes left. Waner followed with a layup, and the Blue Devils connected on 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to push the lead to 64-56, their largest of the game.

By the time Latta hit a runner in the lane to make it 64-60 with 37 seconds left, it was too late for the Tar Heels, who enter the postseason having lost two of four after a 25-1 start.

"Like Coach Hatchell said, we had an excellent game plan," forward Erlana Larkins said. "She felt like we didn't do what we needed to do. She asked the rhetorical question, 'What are you going to do about it?' ... We have to answer Coach Hatchell's question and accept the challenge" in the postseason.

Larkins had 18 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for North Carolina, and Little finished with 12 points.

Joy Cheek had a career-high 14 rebounds for Duke, which is bidding to become the first team to finish undefeated since Connecticut went 39-0 in 2001-02.

The Blue Devils, who entered having clinched the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament, wrapped up their first sweep of the Tar Heels since 2004 when All-American Alana Beard led Duke to its 12th straight win in the series.

"We've had a lot of stars in our program," Goestenkors said. "Now (Bales and Harding) are stars in their own right."

After Beard graduated, Duke went on to lose five straight to its fiercest rival over two seasons, but snapped that slide with a 64-53 win on Feb8 when Latta missed 17 of her 20 shots.

Cameron Indoor Stadium, sold out for just the second time for a women's game this season, was packed with the buzz and fervor typically reserved for Mike Krzyzewski's men's team. A group of students camped in tents behind the famous arena in the patch of grass called Krzyzewskiville but temporarily renamed Goestenkorsopolis in honor of Goestenkors.

The Duke players appeared to feed off the relentless energy of the "Cameron Crazies," who serenaded the team with chants of "Undefeated!" after the final buzzer sounded.

"They were out there (camping out) for how many days in the cold, in the rain," Harding said. "I wanted to come out there and give them a show."