NCAA Championship semifinals: Wake Forest cruises, Duke defeats defending champion Arizona

Tim Cowie/Duke Athletics

NCAA Championship semifinals: Wake Forest cruises, Duke defeats defending champion Arizona

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NCAA Championship semifinals: Wake Forest cruises, Duke defeats defending champion Arizona

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A wild finish to the quarterfinals set up a compelling round of semifinal matches Wednesday between No. 2 Duke-No. 6 Arizona and No. 5 Wake Forest-No. 8 Auburn.

That said, the first semifinal match wasn’t much of a match as Wake Forest dominated for most of the morning. Strong performances from leaders Jennifer Kupcho (6&4) and Emilia Migliaccio (7&5) guided the Demon Deacons to the finals with an 4-0-1 win over No. 8 Auburn, who knocked off top-seed Texas in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

“This whole time in college I haven’t really had the best team,” said Kupcho, winner of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. “To finally get a really good team my fourth year, I think coming into nationals that was really what I was thinking about, trying to advance my team as far as I possibly could.”

Mission accomplished.

The other semifinal match between Duke and defending champion Arizona was much closer.

Haley Moore, who was the hero once again for her Wildcats after hitting another clutch putt to clinch Arizona’s spot in the semifinals on Tuesday, won a point over Duke’s Jaravee Boonchant with a 4&3 victory. Duke’s Virginia Elena Carta, whose 24-hole marathon match with Stanford’s Ziyi Wang in the quarterfinals tied an NCAA record, put the first point of the day on the board for the Blue Devils with a 2&1 victory over Arizona’s Sandra Nordaas.

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The final three matches were all within two strokes until the third pairing got to the par-3 17th. Yu-Sang Hou put her tee shot in a greenside bunker, then holed out for birdie to put a second point on the board for Arizona with a 2&1 victory over Miranda Wang. Shortly after, the Blue Devils’ Ana Belac earned a 2&1 victory against Ya Chun “Money” Chang to tie the matches at 2-2.

It all came down to the senior vs. freshman final pairing of Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan and Duke’s Gina Kim on the final hole. Holding a 1-up lead, Kim stuck her shot within a few feet of the cup, and Pagdanganan followed suit. It wasn’t close enough as Kim tapped in to advance the Blue Devils to the finals and set up an all-ACC title match.

“I saw a lot of fire,” longtime Duke head coach Dan Brooks said on the way his team battled back to win the last two holes. “A lot of fight.”

As for the team they’ll play in the finals, all Brooks could do was smile and laugh: “Wake’s good, woo Wake’s good.”

“We’re just going to go and do what we always do, we’re going to fight,” Brooks added. “(The team is) playing the golf course for the most part, not the players. You don’t want to pay too much attention to the girl you’re playing.”

The final match is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. CT, with more inclement weather expected later in the afternoon.

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