CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke comes into a televised home game in great shape in the ACC women’s basketball race, needing just two wins to clinch the top seed in the conference tournament.

But today’s opponent is a team that’s playing well and just doesn’t like the Blue Devils very much.

Maryland (18-8) has won three straight road games, and lost to Duke only 58-57 at home on Jan. 24 in a game when the Blue Devils obviously had to fight to the end.

There’s a big crowd in the house including a couple of hundred Terp fans behind the Maryland bench.

Today the Terps put up a great fight, but Duke pulls away over the final four minutes to win 71-59.

It’s obvious the teams don’t like each other from the start, as Maryland players bump Duke players as they attempt to line up for the National Anthem.

Duke comes out hitting 3-pointers from the left corner, and breaks out to a 32-22 advantage on a Joy Cheek 3-pointer with 6:57 left. But the Terps cut it to 36-33 at halftime, Duke having the three-point lead because of a layup at the buzzer from Karima Christmas (pictured), and are never out of it until after the final TV timeout of the day.Lori

Duke still leads by just one, 54-53, after Jackie Nared hits a short jumper with 4:28 to go. But the Blue Devils score seven straight ending in a three-point play from Cheek at 3:03.

It’s never again closer than six, and Duke scores the last six points from the free-throw line.

Christmas leads the Blue Devils with a career-high 25 points, followed by Cheek with 17.

Lori Bjork paces Maryland with 14, while Lynetta Kizer has a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds and Anjale Barrett chips in 11.

Duke shoots only 35.5 percent to Maryland’s 39.0, and the Terps win the rebound battle 44-41.

But the Blue Devils force 25 turnovers to 16 of their own. And while Duke is not great from the free-throw line at 19-for-30, Maryland hits only 6-for-16.

They said it …

Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “I’m proud of our figth in a 40-hour turnaround. We had a tough game at Georgia Tech (Friday night). I’m really proud of our team’s focus and maturity in dealing with a situation where you don’t really have a practice per se before you play again. Karima was outstanding. She was attacking at all times, very aggressive, very confident, and showed a tremendous amount of leadership on the floor which was so fun to watch. Joy was incredible playing the “three,” playing the “four,” running different out-of-bounds plays from different spots. … Leadership was critical to this game, and Joy just stepped right into that role.”

Maryland coach Brenda Frese: “I’m really proud of our young team, to have five freshmen and four sophomores come in here and battle the No. 7 team in the country the way we did, in terms of physicality and aggressiveness … When you look at our first ACC game (a 73-45 loss at N.C. State on Jan. 7) to where we are now, I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of. There was a point in the season when the team could have folded.”

Cheek: “”That (pre-game shoving) pissed us off. … (But) the physical game doesn’t bother me. It was about as physical as the last team we played that was physical. Kizer is very physical – I got checked a few times from her. It was a battle down there, but you know we came out on top.”

Christmas: “It’s always fun to have a battle and go back and forth at each other. And obviously we work hard in the weight room, so it shows off when we can be able to battle other people.”

What does it all mean?

That the Blue Devils need just one win to clinch the top seed in the conference tournament. And that the Terps, who are playing very well on the road, may need some more wins to impress the NCAA committee.

Stars of the game

1. Christmas.

2. Cheek.

3. Kizer.

Play of the game

Cheek’s old-fashioned three-point play to make it 61-53 with 3:03 left.


Maryland leads 37-35.


Duke: Won 5.

Maryland: Lost 1.

On deck

Maryland at Boston College, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Duke vs. Virginia, Friday, 8:30 p.m.