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s0356 BC-BKW-T25-Duke-NCaroli 02-08 0609

By Joedy Mccreary
Published in Sports on February 9, 2009 1:46 PM

AP Sports Writer

CHAPEL HILL -- The trees that line this college town's downtown drag are safe -- for now.

That might not be the case tonight after No. 8 North Carolina and No. 4 Duke renew the most heated rivalry in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

They certainly weren't a year ago when Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell celebrated the first of her three wins over Duke by "rolling" a tree along Franklin Street, receiving a warning by local police for littering and promptly accepting several "Get out of jail free" cards from

some North Carolina fans.

"I hope we're in a situation where we have an opportunity to go to Franklin Street," Hatchell said. "But we've got to take care of business first."

There has never been a shortage of needling between the bitter rivals separated by 8 miles of U.S. highway -- and second-year Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie learned the hard way during her first season on Tobacco Road that it goes both ways. She went 0-for-3 against the Tar Heels during her debut season in Durham.

"I'm really surprised I live by so many Carolina fans. I mean, that is nauseating," McCallie joked. "In my neighborhood, there's a lot of Carolina people. They come out of the woodwork. And I look at them differently now. You really do. You sort of can't believe it because they quietly haven't told you.

"And then because we weren't successful against Carolina last year, I really got an earful," she added. "I got an earful from neighbors. Let's just say I'm not taking them cookies anymore."

Of course, there's plenty more on the line for both North Carolina and Duke than local bragging rights. As always, both teams are jockeying for prime position in the ACC.

The Blue Devils (19-2, 7-1) enter sharing first place with a Florida State team that a week ago gave them their only conference loss. The Tar Heels (20-3, 5-2) are, well, nipping at their heels after bouncing back from a surprising three-game losing streak -- which started with a humbling 30-point loss to Connecticut in a 1-2 matchup -- with three straight victories.

"When you go on the road, especially in conference, everybody's going to be really tough," Hatchell said. "The Connecticut game really, sort of -- we lost a little bit of our confidence in that game, but I think we got it back."

North Carolina has plenty of reason to be confident entering the twice-annual grudge match with the Blue Devils. The Tar Heels swept the regular-season series last season with 17- and 31-point wins, then followed that with a 13-point win in the ACC championship game that gave them four straight conference titles.