Feb. 26, 2010

* Courtesy of Duke Athletics

DURHAM, N.C. - Joy Cheek came to Duke and immediately helped her team dominate the Atlantic Coast Conference. When she finally gets around to leaving, she'll do so with another title.

No. 6 Duke wrapped up the ACC regular-season crown and the top seed in the league tournament by routing No. 21 Virginia 83-65 on Friday night.

Jasmine Thomas scored 21 points, Allison Vernerey added 17 and Cheek finished with 13 in her final regular-season home game for the Blue Devils (24-4, 12-1), winners of six straight since their only ACC loss.

They extended their dominance in the series by shooting nearly 48 percent, forcing 19 turnovers and starting the second half with an overwhelming run that put them well on their way to wrapping up the first ACC title for coach Joanne P. McCallie.

"They've been steady, consistent - it just really does reflect the team's mindset," McCallie said. "It's special for Duke. It's always special for Duke to capture championships. That's what it's all about."

Duke beat Virginia for the 17th straight time and won its 16th consecutive league game at home. The Blue Devils finish the regular season at rival North Carolina on Sunday before making the hour-long drive west to Greensboro for the league tournament.

Monica Wright, who entered averaging an ACC-best 22.7 points, had 15 of her 27 in the first half for Virginia (20-8, 8-5), which lost its second straight to fall into a tie with No. 22 Georgia Tech for third in the ACC heading into Sunday's finale against Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers allowed Duke to shoot nearly 53 percent in the second half while making just 7 of 27 attempts.

"I told them that the second half was the worst half of basketball that we'd had all year," coach Debbie Ryan said. "To be honest with you, it was so bad, it was so beyond one of the worst, that I told them just to forget it, because there's nothing that's going to change what happened in the second half tonight."

Thomas, who was 6 of 19 from the field and missed eight of her first nine attempts, shook off that slow start and hit a pair of 3-pointers during the 17-4 run out of the break that put the Blue Devils in control. Vernerey started the burst with a layup 13 seconds into the half, and Thomas capped it with her second 3 to make it 51-36 with 14:50 remaining.

McCallie credited the contributions from each of her three top scorers, praising "Jaz's leadership in the second half and her attack mode, Allison starting us off right away and being so aggressive, and Joy just being steady Joy all the way through, rebounding and scoring and doing the things that she does."

Ryan was more succinct, calling Vernerey's presence inside the difference in the game because "that just fueled their defense, and they just were like swarming sharks in water."

Either way, by that point, Duke was well on its way to wrapping up the ninth ACC regular-season title in school history. The Blue Devils hold the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since the 2006-07 team reeled off 30 consecutive wins and claimed the No. 1 overall seed in that year's NCAA tournament.

While this was billed as Senior Night for Cheek and two other fourth-year players who were freshmen on that team, it wasn't the last time they'll take the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Durham is one of 16 sites for the NCAA's opening weekend, meaning the Blue Devils won't have to leave their home state until the regional semifinals in late March.

"I still don't think of this as the last game," Cheek said. "I think the last NCAA game here, it'll resonate a little bit more. ... So I guess I'll have another Senior Night."

Paulisha Kellum scored 13 points and Chelsea Shine added 10 for Virginia, which hasn't won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1997.