Dukes Karima Christmas and UNCs Italee Lucas hope to end their careers in the Final Four.
  • File photo by Al Drago
  • Duke’s Karima Christmas and UNC’s Italee Lucas hope to end their careers in the Final Four.

Duke will be a very heavy favorite at home while UNC will be a solid favorite on a neutral court.

That’s the situation today as the two local ACC teams in blue begin play in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The No. 6 Blue Devils (29-3) have the No. 2 seed in the Philadelphia Region and will host No. 15 seed Ohio Valley Conference champion Tennessee-Martin (21-10) at about 1:45 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Duke-Martin winner will play at 7 p.m. Monday at Cameron against the survivor of today’s 11:15 a.m. game between No. 7 seed Iowa State (22-10) and No. 10 seed Marist (30-2).

Meanwhile the No. 14 Tar Heels (25-8) are at the Spokane Regional as the No. 5 seed, and will take on No. 12 seed Big West champion Fresno State (25-7) in Albuquerque at about 4:45.

The survivor will play again on Monday night against the winner of the game between No. 4 seed Kentucky (24-8) and No. 13 seed MEAC champion Hampton (26-6).

“We’re just really excited to play,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s been a while since we’ve played and I think there were some great, great lessons from the ACC Tournament, from all the games really. We’ve been working on some things that we need to do to get better, and we’re just excited to get out there and play. Like I said, there have been practices and scrimmages and things like that, but nothing like a game.”

Duke senior Jasmine Thomas said she’s happy to be able to play one or two more games in Cameron.

“It’s just great to have the opportunity to play at home again,” Thomas said. “That’s just great. We love playing in Cameron, and as a senior, we had our Senior Night. Everyone knows that was a very emotional night, but we get another chance to play at home in front of our families and friends and our home crowd.”

UTM coach Kevin McMillan is hoping the stars line up just right for his team to spring an upset today.

“We’re going to probably break the shot clocks so that they don’t work and maybe we’ll spread the floor out and run around and the clock will run down,” McMillan said. “You know it’s a daunting task for any team. You look at the NCAA Tournament and the 2-15 games aren’t looked at regardless. Add in we’re the youngest team in the country with one year of college experience on the roster.

“Start four freshmen, bring two or three off the bench, it just sounds like it gets worse and worse. They’re [Duke] 6-5, 6-4, I get tired to saying 6-something. And we’re 5-something, and I get tired of saying 5-something when I describe us. I think the boards are going to be a huge battle.”

In Albuquerque, the battle is going to be between the Tar Heels’ athleticism and the Bulldogs’ 3-point barrage.

“They’re deadly,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said of the Bulldogs. “We know they’re going to take a lot of ‘3s.’ But they’re not only great 3-point shooting but great on the drive. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us because they’re so efficient.”

Fresno State is looking for its first NCAA Tournament win in four appearances under current coach Kevin Wiggins.

“We really want to break through,” Wiggins said. “We want to be the team that people think can be in the Sweet Sixteen every year. We just want to get better.”

No. 6 Duke vs. UT-Martin
[Saturday, 1:45 p.m. Cameron Indoor Stadium]
WDNC 620.
Video: ESPN2.
Records: Duke 29-3, UTM 21-10.
Coaches’ records — Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 427-173, 111-25 at Duke; UTM: Kevin McMillan 32-29 at UTM.
Leading scorers — Duke: Jasmine Thomas 14.8; UTM: Heather Butler 19.1.
Leading rebounders — Duke: Krystal Thomas 8.7; UTM: Jaclissa Haislip
Assist leaders — Duke: Jasmine Thomas 3.3; UTM: Jasmine Newsome 4.1.

No. 14 UNC vs. Fresno State
[Saturday, 4:45 p.m., University Arena, Albuquerque]
WCHL 1360.
Video: ESPN2.
Records: UNC 25-8, FSU 25-7.
Coaches’ records — UNC: Sylvia Hatchell 856-302, 584-222 at UNC; FSU: Adrian Wiggins 162-69, 122-52 at FSU.
Leading scorers — UNC: Italee Lucas 15.6; FSU: Jaleesa Ross 16.4.
Leading rebounders — UNC: Laura Broomfield 7.9; FSU: Rosie Moult 6.2.
Assist leaders — UNC: Cetera DeGraffenreid 4.9; FSU: Jaleesa Ross 3.9.