March 6, 2009

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Duke got off to the kind of start it had hoped for in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The eighth-ranked Blue Devils will soon find out if it's just a first step or the highlight of their weekend.

Abby Waner scored 16 points to help Duke beat No. 24 Virginia 76-53 in the quarterfinals Friday night, extending their long winning streak against the Cavaliers and reaching the semifinals once again.

Joy Cheek added 10 of her 12 points after halftime for the third-seeded Blue Devils (25-4), who won their tournament opener for the 15th straight year. Duke has reached at least the semifinals every year since 1995 - with five straight titles from 2000-04 - and next faces 12th-ranked Florida State on Saturday.

The Blue Devils certainly had little to complain about in this one, building a 25-point first-half lead and cruising the rest of the way for their 16th straight win against the Cavaliers (23-9). Duke shot 56 percent, including 8-for-13 from 3-point range, and scored 26 points off turnovers.

"I was very pleased with the energy, very pleased with the way the team was playing off each other on offense and defense," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "And also the challenge of trying to keep the energy at a high level. When you play so explosively like that, it's a very difficult thing to maintain. I thought our team did a great job of keeping intensity and fighting for that intensity throughout."

Duke followed its overtime win against rival North Carolina in the regular-season finale by earning its biggest margin of victory in the tournament since beating Maryland by 30 in the 2005 semifinals.

"I think we have, as a team, figured that it's a new season and what we did in the regular season is past tense," Cheek said. "So we do need to step it up and just come out hard."

Aisha Mohammed scored 14 points for sixth-seeded Virginia, which had relatively little trouble beating Virginia Tech in Thursday's quarterfinals. But the Cavaliers looked overwhelmed from the start, shooting just 36 percent and committing 19 turnovers while Duke locked down on high-scoring teammates Monica Wright and Lyndra Littles.

Both players came in averaging 21 points per game. But Wright finished with 13 on 4-for-15 shooting, while Littles missed her first seven shots on the way to eight points on 3-for-14 shooting.

"We definitely expected them to be physical," Wright said. "They came out, they pressured us and they definitely got their bodies into us, and we definitely didn't handle it."

The Blue Devils had no such troubles. Aside from Waner's big game, Chante Black scored 12 points inside while Cheek came through with a flurry that turned away the Cavaliers' best rally of the night.

"Overall we had a fairly good shooting night," Waner said. "It's important to have that on the first night. ... Especially in this conference where it's so even across the board, to get any extra edge you can going into the next day is huge."

It's hard to imagine Duke could have played much better than it did in the first 17 minutes. The Blue Devils forced turnover after turnover with their halfcourt trap, got just about any shot they wanted in the paint and made all four 3-point attempts. The lead steadily grew during that dominating stretch, from 17-2 to 27-6 and finally 40-15 when Waner drained a 3 from several feet behind the arc with 2:43 left in the half.

The only blemish was how the Blue Devils finished the half, with Virginia scoring the final eight points to cut the deficit to 42-25 at the break - a stretch that had McCallie shaking her head as she walked off the court.

Virginia then scored the first five points of the second half to get as close as 12 before Cheek got going. First came her basket in the lane, followed by a pair of free throws on the next possession. A few minutes later, she made a 3-pointer, assisted on Waner's third 3, then scored a layup off an inbounds pass to push the lead back up to 55-32 with 12:45 left.

The Cavaliers didn't get closer than 18 points the rest of the way.

"I think that they did what we would be envious to do, and that is, they played tremendous defense from start to finish," Virginia coach Debbie Ryan said. "I don't think we defended well, and I think that's where we lost the game."

Virginia hasn't beaten Duke since January 2000.