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Rivalry, take two

McCants, Heels will try and take it to No. 1 Duke

Posted: Thursday February 8, 2007 2:46PM; Updated: Thursday February 8, 2007 6:51PM
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Rashanda McCants will try to use the family's trademark jump shot to beat top-ranked Duke tonight.
Rashanda McCants will try to use the family's trademark jump shot to beat top-ranked Duke tonight.
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Sometimes, you just have to cherish the little victories.

There's beating your older brother in a friendly pick-up game, even if it's just once, but few things are better than accomplishing something he hasn't done -- and never will.

In her first season at North Carolina, sophomore Rashanda McCants helped North Carolina beat rival Duke, not once, but twice. The Tar Heels will try to make it three straight when they host the Blue Devils tonight.

Big brother Rashad came close to getting a win in one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball. His team did it. North Carolina beat the Blue Devils once during his three-year college career. Rashad, who is now with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, was on the bench though.

"He was sick when they beat them, so he didn't get to play," Rashanda said. "I tell him that I beat Duke, and he never could. He says, 'Hey I won a national championship.'"

Rashanda hasn't, yet, but the Tar Heels are heavy favorites to contend for the title this year.

Of course, with this rivalry, a regular-season win is almost as sweet. It would be even sweeter this time around. Top-ranked Duke and No. 2 North Carolina head into tonight's game as the only unbeaten teams in the country. And it certainly has the feel of a national championship game.

"It's more intense and mind boggling than anything," Rashanda said. "There's so much hype and the anticipation of just that first Duke game. We're so close to each other, there's more student involvement. Every year, people look for that specific game. In the Final Four, you never really know who's going to be there."

The Tar Heels are certainly expected to be there. North Carolina reached the national semifinals last season, but came up short against champion Maryland. Rashanda played just nine minutes in that loss to the Terrapins, but she's logging more time this season.

The 6-1 Rashanda has moved into the starting lineup where her size and athleticism can be a tough matchup.

"Rashanda is a very good player," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "She's going to get better. She's shooting well from the outside, but one of the best things she does is post up. I just want her to be more aggressive. She's so timid."

It's obvious that Rashanda has honed a few of those moves against her big brother. "She looks like him," Hatchell said. "In the face, she looks like him. And, her jump shot, I'm pretty sure he taught her to shoot because her jump shot looks just like his. She has a legitimate big-time jump shot. She looks just like her brother shooting."

Maybe Rashad, whose experience also helped prepare Rashanda for the rigorous schedule of a college athlete, can help his sister overcome those timid stretches Hatchell wants to see disappear. Rashanda doesn't seem to have a problem being aggressive when they're battling it out on the court.

The siblings, who talk two or three times a week, did just that this past summer. Rashanda won for the first time, 6-5.

"After that, he beat me like five times in a row, but I don't care, I won one," she said. My shot's getting better than his. I'm going up there this summer and show him a thing or two."

And who knows, maybe she'll have something her brother already has -- a national championship.

North Team Rising

The South teams may dominate the top half of the Big 12 standings, taking up most of the first six spots in the standings, but a couple of teams from the North Division are hanging in the mix. Iowa State has worked its way into a three-way tie for fifth place, while Nebraska is in a tie of its own for the top spot, along with Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Sophomore Kelsey Griffin and senior Kiera Hardy have led Nebraska to a 20-4 record. Both are among the top-10 scorers in the conference. Griffin leads the Huskers with 16 points a game. Hardy is averaging up 15.8 for Nebraska, which has won eight of its last 10. Those losses came to Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

Alone At The Top

Connecticut has widened its lead in the Big East thanks to a win over Marquette last Saturday. At 11-0, the Huskies are the only ones without a loss in conference play. There is quite a tie-up behind them, too. Louisville, Marquette, South Florida and Rutgers are all knotted at 7-3. West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame all have four losses.