AP Sports Writer
The Atlantic Coast Conference had to settle one tiebreaker for its women’s tournament by flipping a coin.
The games might be that close, too.
The tournament begins Thursday in Greensboro, N.C., and it’s shaping up as a much tighter event than it seemed just a few weeks ago.
A top-seeded Duke team that once looked capable of cruising through Greensboro unchecked on its way to a top seed in the NCAA tournament suddenly appears beatable following the loss of perhaps its most irreplaceable player.
The season-ending knee injury to point guard Chelsea Gray — the league leader in both assists and steals — can’t help but pull the Blue Devils back closer to the pack and make a four-day tournament with four Top 25 teams a more even affair.
“I’ve always felt like (at) the ACC tournament,” Clemson coach Itoro Coleman said, “anything can happen.”
That was certainly true last year, when the two top seeds were knocked out in the quarterfinals, but it hasn’t always been the case.
Not since 1999 has a team other than Duke, Maryland or North Carolina won the tournament, and at least one of them has reached the title game every year since 1992.
Those three are once again the top three seeds — but for a change, other teams during the regular season showed they can beat them, too.
Fourth-seeded Florida State defeated both the Terrapins and Tar Heels, and fifth-seeded Miami last week beat the Blue Devils for the first time in program history.
Now it’s up to those schools to prove they can challenge the league’s standard-bearers in tournament time. The 23rd-ranked Seminoles have reached the semifinals just twice while the Hurricanes have never advanced past the quarterfinals.
“The reality is it’s a brand new season, and seeds don’t matter,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “That’s just how you figure out who plays who.”
The sixth-ranked Blue Devils (27-2) won a league-record 17 ACC games — this was the first season with an 18-game conference schedule — and are 3-1 without Gray. Talented freshman Alexis Jones, who scored a season-best 22 points in the season-ending win over North Carolina, makes the Duke team go and shot-blocking sophomore Elizabeth Williams still patrols the paint.
Yet they find themselves in an uncomfortably familiar situation, because if the opening-round seeds hold, they’ll face eighth-seeded North Carolina State in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal won by a Wolfpack team that has pulled at least one upset in each of coach Kellie Harper’s previous three seasons.
No. 10 Maryland (23-6) and No. 15 North Carolina (26-5) tied for second place and split their regular-season meetings. Because both teams lost twice to Duke and once to Florida State, the tiebreaker for the No. 2 seed came down to a coin flip won by the Terrapins, who await the Wake Forest-Georgia Tech winner in one of their final ACC tournaments before they leave for the Big Ten.
And coach Brenda Frese, a two-time champion here, says this is no time for sentimentality.
“We’re excited to play against the best competition,” she said. “Greensboro does it the best, in my opinion, the way they put their tournament together. ... We just want to come in there and give it our best shot.”
The Tar Heels have won the tournament nine times but have reached the title game just once since reeling off four consecutive titles from 2005-08.
- Local Sports
Allegany wins two as pitchers take control
Allegany pitchers held two teams to eight base hits while defeating Smithsburg and Preston as part of the Mountain Ridge Easter Classic Friday afternoon at the Hot Stove Complex.
Salisbury overpowers FSU
Paige Knussman hit a grand slam during a seven-run third inning to lead Salisbury University to an 11-6 victory over Frostburg State, eliminating the Bobcats from the Capital Athletic Conference tournament Friday at Christopher Newport.
Frostburg bounced from CAC
Elliott Mortimer fired a four-hitter and Brad Wenzel and Colbe Herr had three hits as top-seeded York eliminated fourth-seeded Frostburg State from the Capital Athletic Conference tournament with a 5-1 victory Friday afternoon.
Sellers’ five RBIs powers Alco’s rout
Kyleigh Sellers tripled, singled twice and drove in five runs to lead a 17-hit attack that carried Allegany to an 18-6 win over Hope for Hyndman Charter on Thursday.
- Sports Calendar - 04/19/2014
Miners win 57 in a row
Mountain Ridge made it 57 wins in a row, scoring multiple runs in four of the five innings Thursday afternoon in defeating Keyser, 14-4, in an Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference game at Mountain Ridge.
Allegany hammers Hawks
The bats have begun to click for the Allegany College of Maryland Trojans as a two-run first-inning home run by Tanner Klein got the ball, and the runs, rolling as the Trojans pounded out 14 hits in defeating Hagerstown Community College, 10-7, in a Maryland JUCO game Thursday at The Rock.
Duncan helps ACM split two with Cecil
Parris Duncan doubled home two runs in the top of the fourth to help Allegany College to a 2-1 victory over Cecil College in the first game of a doubleheader split Thursday afternoon.
Unbeaten Alco beats Hyndman
Undefeated Allegany took a five-inning 14-4 win at Hope for Hyndman Charter School Thursday, scoring five runs in the second inning and eight in the third.
Ken Ayers hits ace
Ken Ayers hit a hole-in-one Thursday on the No. 3 hole at Mill Creek Country Club during an MGA scramble.
- More Local Sports Headlines
- Allegany wins two as pitchers take control