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Duke keeps its slim bubble hopes alive with win over Pitt

The major conference tournaments tipped off Thursday, giving lower-seeded teams one final push for an NCAA Tournament berth.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Tournament-Pittsburgh at Duke William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness is in full swing.

Four major conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12, and SEC — tipped off their conference tournaments Wednesday. They were joined by four mid-majors (Ohio Valley, Atlantic 10, Sun Belt, and Atlantic Sun), two conferences that got started Tuesday (Big South and the Horizon League), and a few others still finishing out their regular seasons. That resulted in 64 Division I games Wednesday, many featuring teams with one last chance to make the NCAA Tournament.

Per Charlie Creme of ESPN, two of his 16 bubble teams — including the last four byes, last four in, first four out, and next four out — took the court Wednesday: Duke and Tulane.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 13 Women’s - North Carolina State at Duke
Duke’s youngest player was once again its best as Shayeann Day-Wilson kept the Blue Devils alive in March.
Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Blue Devils haven’t looked deserving of the NCAA tournament during conference play, at least not for several weeks, but their nonconference resume has kept Duke in the mix for its first Big Dance bid since 2018. Playing less than an hour away from home at Greensboro Coliseum, the Blue Devils (currently in Creme’s next four out) did the bare minimum to remain in the mix for one of the 68 spots.

Duke was down 20-9 after the first quarter to Pittsburgh (11-19, 2-16 in the ACC) after shooting 3-of-16 in the opening period. The offense got marginally better from there, as the Blue Devils made four field goals in the second quarter, and then six apiece in the two periods after halftime. Fortunately, the Panthers only made 21 field goals of their own, and Duke was able to make up that margin at the free throw line, earning 22 foul shots. Going 13-of-22 on freebies was still better than Pitt’s 6-of-17 mark from the charity stripe.

The hero of the day was ACC rookie of the year Shayeann Day-Wilson, who led all scorers with 22 points and had five of her team’s six assists compared to just one turnover. Day-Wilson scored or assisted on 12 of the Blue Devils’ 16 fourth-quarter points as they battled back from a five-point deficit in the final frame to win 55-52. Thanks to the Canadian freshman’s heroics, Duke (17-12, 7-11 ACC) lives to see another day.

The Green Wave were not so lucky. Tulane (20-8, 11-5 AAC) also began the day in Creme’s first four out, but lost to Wichita State (14-15, 5-11 AAC) in the second-to-last game of conference play. The entire game was played within a six-point margin, and the Green Wave never led by more than five. They had a chance to win the game with nine seconds to play in regulation, but Arsula Clark went 1-of-2 from the foul line to force a tie at 74 instead.

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Arsula Clark may have a hard time forgetting this loss to Wichita State if Tulane misses the NCAA Tournament.
Justin Ford / For CommercialAppeal.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In overtime, Clark nearly redeemed herself, putting Tulane up one with 32 seconds to play. On the ensuing possession, Shocker forward Asia Strong was blocked once by Mia Heide, then got her own offensive rebound and was fouled. Strong made both free throws and Wichita State held on as Clark missed a potential game-winning layup at the buzzer.

Fortunately for the Green Wave, they can still pick up more wins in the conference tournament. But they didn’t do themselves any favors with a loss to the sub-.500 Shockers.

Around the country, there weren’t any significant upsets. Syracuse, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Texas A&M all lost to lower-seeded opponents, but none of those teams were in position to advance to the NCAAs without winning their conference tournament.

Bubble teams to keep an eye on in Day 2 of the conference tournaments include Boston College, Duke, Florida, State, and Miami in the ACC; Northwestern in the Big Ten; Washington State in the Pac-12; and Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Missouri in the SEC. Incidentally, all four ACC teams face off against one another, and the Wildcats also play the Bulldogs in the SEC. Those three games could function as de facto play-ins for the NCAA Tournament.


Here is the schedule for the second round of the major conference tournaments.

ACC

No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 13 Clemson, 11 a.m. ET (ACCNX)
No. 8 Boston College vs. No. 9 Florida State, 2 p.m. ET (ACCN)
No. 7 Miami vs. No. 10 Duke, 6 p.m. ET (ACCNX)
No. 6 Georgia Tech vs. No. 11 Wake Forest, 8 p.m. ET (ACCNX)

Big Ten (all games on BTN)

No. 8 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Purdue, 11:30 a.m. ET
No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 13 Rutgers, 2 p.m. ET
No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Minnesota, 6:30 p.m. ET
No. 6 Nebraska vs. No. 14 Illinois, 9 p.m. ET

Pac-12 (all games on Pac-12 Network)

No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 5 Colorado, 12 p.m. PT
No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 8 Oregon State, 2:30 p.m. PT
No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 7 UCLA, 6 p.m. PT
No. 3 Washington State vs. No. 6 Utah, 8:30 p.m. PT

SEC (all games on SEC Network)

No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Missouri, 1 p.m. ET
No. 5 Florida vs. No. 13 Vanderbilt, 3:25 p.m. ET
No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 10 Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET
No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 11 Alabama, 9:25 p.m. ET