No. 1 Duke celebrated its return to the top of the college basketball poll Monday by embarrassing No. 9 North Carolina, 63-47 to win its record fifth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title.
The Blue Devils (27-3) buckled down midway through the first half when Leah Metcalf knocked down Beard with a shove after the whistle to draw a technical foul.
"It was just so malicious, it really fired us up," said Iciss Tillis, who led Duke with 17 points and nine rebounds. "Alana came to the side right after and said `Lets pull together and go get this."'
Duke pulled away from there to beat North Carolina (24-6) for the third-straight year in the finals and match the Duke men (1999-2003) as the only conference teams to win five-straight titles.
Tillis, Beard and Vickie Krapohl, all Duke seniors, capped their ACC careers unbeaten in tournament play.
"I wanted this to be like Senior Night for those three," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors. "I don't even want to think about losing them because they are so special. I tell anybody who asks, as good as they are on the court, they are even better off of it."
Duke guaranteed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with the victory.
Tillis grabbed her second-straight tournament MVP award by shaking off misses on her first three shots to dominate inside with easy layups before fouling out with just under two minutes to play. Tillis also scored 26 and 11 points in two earlier round games.
"I have just been talking to myself before these recent games and telling myself to turn it up," Tillis said. "I consider the postseason to be a second season and time to turn up the level of play."
Duke used a smothering defense on North Carolina to beat the Tar Heels for the 12th-straight time and deny them their first ACC tournament title since 1998.
North Carolina appeared in nine of the last 11 finals, and coach Sylvia Hatchell made the Tar Heels stay on the court and watch Duke celebrate.
"I am very proud to have played for nine of the last 11, but I wanted the team to stay out there so they can see what happens," Hatchell said. "We've gotten close, but it's been five years and this is a young team that needed to visualize what it's like to cut down the nets."
North Carolina, which averages 74 points a game, struggled both inside and outside while scoring a season low in points. The Tar Heels previous low was 54 in a February loss to North Carolina State.
"They didn't score a lot of points - 63, and you feel like you can win that game," Hatchell said. "Especially with the points we normally score."
But after falling behind by 15 several times, the Tar Heels made it a game with a 7-0 run that cut it to 40-32 with 9:35 to play.
Duke called a timeout to quickly regroup, and came out of it refocused and intent on putting the game away. The Blue Devils reeled off a 10-0 run behind consecutive fast-break baskets from Alana Beard that pushed their lead back to 50-32.
That sealed it for the frustrated Tar Heels, who were 0-for-9 from 3-point range, failed to score any fast-break points and were outscored in the paint 42-28.
Candace Sutton led North Carolina with 13 points, but the talented freshman duo of Ivory Latta and Camille Little combined to go 6-for-29 for 16 points a day after they combined to score 51 points in a semifinal victory over North Carolina State.
Mistie Bass went 7-for-7 for 16 points for Duke and Beard, a two-time All-American who has won almost every award except the ACC tournament MVP, finished with 15 points.