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Rob's Big-Time Review

Here's the first section of Rob's comments on the women's team. There are three more sections to go after this one.

Duke Basketball 2001-2002: The Year in Review

I. Season Recap

II. Player-By-Player Evaluation

III. A Look At The Class Of 2006

IV. Preliminary Season Preview

I. Season Recap

Perhaps the most elusive element in judging a team's success is the
ever-mysterious "chemistry", the factor that determines how well the team
plays together. The reason why it's so hard to quantify is that much of
what determines it happens behind the scenes. And really, that's the
way it should be--no team wants its dirty laundry aired in public. A happy
team is always perfectly willing to talk about how good their chemistry, but
an unhappy one will rarely talk about how bad it is. Unfortunately, the 2002
Devils didn't always have the luxury of leaving everything in the locker room
as a number of very public occurrences left the team struggling with a 3-2
record early in the year. Four players transferred and another left the
program within a six month span, transforming Duke from a team with a bloated
roster to one with a skeleton crew. To be honest, the departure of the
players at the end of the 2001 season was not unexpected or even undesirable,
though the reasons for each player leaving differed. But the two players who
left in 2002 were expected to play key roles for a team that was already
taking its chances by having a thin roster with no walk-ons.

Coach G expected to return eight players in 2002 as well as adding two highly-
regarded recruits for a lean, ten-woman roster. The returnees went off
to Australia during the summer for a bit of basketball and a lot of fun.
The purpose of the trip was to develop new leaders for the team and build
chemistry, since as Alana Beard noted, there were way too many cliques on
the 2001 team despite its success. Simply put, no matter how good Jackie
Stiles was, Duke should have been able to beat Southwest Missouri State
and Washington and then go on to the Final Four. But too many players
tried to do too much by themselves, and it hurt the team on offense and
defense. The theme for 2002 was "United", a concept that seemed laughable
lyafter the team stumbled so badly after such a convincing opening win.
Coach G struggled to get Beard more involved in the offense, struggled to get
them to play better defense and struggled to find a starting five that worked
well together. Duke used five different starting line-ups in its first eight
games, but it wasn't until the insertion of Vicki Krapohl that things really
started to click. But there were more problems ahead than just lineup issues.

Popular assistant coach Joanne Boyle was stricken with an arteriovenous
malformation in her brain, debilitating her for a couple of months and
putting a scare into everyone. Then sophomore Rometra Craig, a player who
had started early in the year but who then went into a horrible slump, decided
to transfer. To make things even better, Crystal White decided to leave
Duke right before the team left to go play Virginia. All of Coach G's
attempts to foster chemistry and togetherness just went right out the window
and left her second-guessing her coaching methods. But a funny thing happened:
her team didn't feel sorry for itself. Instead, it got mad, and took it out
on Virginia, running them off the court. The team rallied around Coach G but
especially each other, playing with a level of precision and passion that
hadn't been seen since the first game of the year.

That was the beginning of a truly remarkable story in college basketball,
the best part of which was the sheer joy that this group found in the game.
Duke was simply a fun team to watch: fluid and exciting on offense while
gritty and clever on defense. Early weaknesses like outside shooting,
post play and point guard play suddenly turned into strengths. Through
rigorous practice, the team made itself adaptable to nearly any situation.
While young, the group never panicked, even when their opponents got the
drop on them during games. Even though Duke sometimes let opponents back
into games or fell behind by big margins, they knew that they were capable of
a game-breaking run. The great thing for Coach G is that despite the fact
that she was pressed into using all eight players, like it or not, none
of the eight let her down. They made the most of their minutes by playing
their roles to perfection. It was easy to admire the Big Three of Beard,
Tillis and Currie as they stepped up game after game to lead the team; but
it was just as easy to admire the five other players, as they did all the little
things as well as stepping up to save the day when their numbers were called.
This team never forgot their early struggles and so never took any win
for granted, and the result was a rampage through the ACC. With such a
small group, there was an understanding that there was no time for
individual agendas, destructive cliques or petty conflicts.

Let's go back to last summer and investigate the origins of the team.
Coach G had been waiting for the right time to schedule a summer trip for
her team, and she thought the loss of Georgia Schweitzer and Rochelle
Parent meant that this group would be looking for new leaders. She thought
the trip would jump-start that process as well as provide an opportunity
for bonding and chemistry. Of course, the chance to play some outstanding
Australian teams wouldn't hurt, either. Duke's first two games were
against the Australian Institute of Sport, a government sponsored program
designed to develop Olympic athletes. The first game did not go well,
as AIS (whom I will describe in greater detail later in this report)
outscored Duke by 18 points in the second half to win by 15. Most of
this damage was done by a young player named Jessica Foley, about whom
we will learn much more in the years to come. Beard was her typical
brilliant self and Crystal White also had a great game with 10 points,8
rebounds and 4 blocks. But Duke's 26 turnovers did not please Coach G.
Things got better the next night but foul trouble hurt the team as AIS
won by just 4. Sheana Mosch and Rometra Craig complemented the usual
show by Beard.

Duke bounced back with a narrow win over the Brisbane Capitals of the
WNBL, Australia's pro league. Craig and Mosch once again played
well along with Beard as Duke was sloppy and nearly coughed up a 12-point
lead. The Devils closed well against the defending WNBL champion Sydney
Panthers, overcoming a 10-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.
Beard went wild, scoring 13 of her 31 points in the period while Iciss Tillis
also came up big with 18 points and 5 steals. This was by far their best
performance as the team really started to come together. While Duke shot
horribly and had trouble adjusting to the officiating, they learned how to win
under duress against great opponents. In particular, it looked like Sheana
Mosch was ready to become a dominant player again and Rometra Craig seemed
prepared to become a productive starter. The team had a lot of fun as a
group on a trip that many deemed as once-in-a-lifetime. Everything seemed
to be going according to plan.

Then the team returned to campus. A few things happened that would
affect the course of the entire season. First of all, Crystal White hurt her
ankle and was out for a few weeks just as practice was getting into high
gear. Secondly, while Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis got over their tremendous
homesickness from 2001, Rometra Craig never did. This really showed
in her play, because she struggled in virtually every game. She played
solid defense but couldn't hit anything from the field, going 14-40 in
her 7 games--and one of those had her only solid performance at 6-12.
She was shooting too much and not getting results, and was growing more
frustrated as a result. Ro also had her usual struggles at the foul line,
shooting just 7-12. Craig lost her starting job after a couple of games
to the talented Currie, who picked up the offense rather quickly despite
missing some practice time herself.

The other development was that as a result of White not being available,
Wynter Whitley became the starting center. She had several good games
at the beginning of the year but also had some offensive duds. However,
Whitley was advanced well beyond her years on defense, something Duke
desperately needed with the departure of Rochelle Parent. She did an
excellent job on All-America Plenette Pierson of Texas Tech, for example.
But the bottom line was that she was way ahead of White, who wasn't able
to play until November 16th. The key turnaround games not surprisingly
came when Duke was struggling most. Both White and Whitley were non-
factors against Toledo. While White scored 7 points, she didn't have a
single rebound. Crystal was then teriffic against patsy Davidson,
recording a double-double in 25 minutes of play. But against South
Carolina, a game where Whitley struggled and only played 12 minutes,
Crystal did very little in her 27 minutes. In fact, it was worse than
very little--despite 6 rebounds, she was just 1-4 from the floor and
was constantly out of position on defense. Two games later, Whitley played
26 minutes against a great Louisiana Tech frontcourt and did quite well,
getting 10 points and 7 boards. Meanwhile, White played just six minutes.
Four days later, she left the program. Craig had also played just six minutes
against La. Tech and transferred a couple of days later.

White has never explained exactly why she left, while Craig talked a lot
about being homesick. I think that was probably the biggest factor in
Craig leaving, though it's hard to tell if her homesickness affected her
game or if her struggles at Duke made her more homesick than ever. While
Duke would miss her athleticism and defense, the fact was that Currie had
already surpassed her. White was a different matter. Everyone was frankly
stunned that she left. Her absence left a huge void in Duke's post game.
While it was clear that she had a lot of work to do on the defensive end,
she was a great shotblocker and could score down low. Either she didn't
want to compete, didn't want to deal with the coaching staff's critiques
of her game, or had some other unspoken problem with the program; regardless,
she left in a rather unceremonious and thoughtless fashion. Quitting as
the rest of your team is sitting on a bus, waiting to go play their first
league game, is not exactly indicative of a great deal of maturity.
Regardless of how graceless her exit was, the team used the events as
an enormous wake-up call. The way they played left behind excuses as
each team member took personal responsibility for how the team as a whole
played, and used the defections as a rallying point. The choice was
either to stick together or watch everything fall apart.

Let's backtrack once again to the first game of the year. Duke hosted
the State Farm Classic, which meant a big crowd (over 6000), a top ten
opponent (Texas Tech) and an appearance on ESPN. The game was a showcase
for Iciss Tillis and Monique Currie, who shocked the Lady Raiders with their
quickness and scoring power. The teams changed leads 13 times in the first
half, but runs featuring Duke's devastating fast break gave them a huge
second half lead that they held on to. Though not every player performed
at a high level, there was still a solid team effort. Duke took their
opponent very seriously, and it showed. It was also apparent that they didn't
take their next opponent, Elon, very seriously at all. Ten minutes into the
game, Duke was only up by 5 and stymied by a very basic zone. No one
wanted to shoot, and when they did, it was ill-advised. Duke eventually
overwhelmed Elon through sheer talent, but that formula did not work against
their next opponent.

Duke played Toledo on the road a couple of days later, a team that plays
sticky defense. They played with no energy against another team that broke
out a zone. The Devils shot 41% (to Toledo's 46%) and just 3-18 from three.
Throwing in a bunch of turnovers didn't help either. Yup, Duke had 18
turnovers against a 2-3 zone, which doesn't suggest a lot of defensive
pressure. The only players who did much of anything were Beard and Mosch,
with the latter continuing her solid early season play. Coach G was furious
at Duke's concentration or lack thereof. While the offensive play was bad,
the defensive intensity was inexcusably lax--Toledo shot 47% from three,
something Duke knew they had to stop. The Devils rolled over Davidson in
the first game of their annual Duke Classic and all seemed right in the
world again. The Devils would be playing unheralded South Carolina in order
to try to win their tenth Classic title in a row, and there was little
reason to suspect that they wouldn't. After all, Iciss Tillis, suspended
for a game, was back and ready to go.

Things didn't turn out quite the way Duke wanted, as they had to rally
furiously just to get back in the game. USC bombed away from the three point
line, shooting an absurd 9-15 against Duke while the Devils were just 5-16.
Duke had a 3 point lead in the waning moments of the game, blew a chance
to go ahead further, and let USC send it into overtime with a three. In OT,
Duke simply laid down and died, being outscored and outworked by the Lady
Gamecocks. Coach G was less angry than simply stunned after the game.
This was a telling quote and showed exactly how Duke improved later in the
year: "We've got a long way to go in terms of our leadership. We're dealing
with a lot of young players who are in difficult positions. We are asking a
lot of Alana and she is doing a great job, but she is a sophomore. It is
tough for her. We are all going to grow into our roles eventually." The
Devils were now 3-2 against a schedule with just one ranked team. They
looked sloppy and disorganized, though their great individual talent still
made them tough to play. But at this point, any delusions of grandeur
had disappeared. Very soon, the players would have to make a choice about
what kind of season it was going to be.

Duke went to Charlotte and beat former Duke star Katie Meier's first
team. Neither team played well, but Duke played good defense and got a
spectacular performance from Beard, who was now delivering night after
night. Her problem was that she was working too hard for her shots since
she was also running the team. While her passing meant a lot to Duke, the
fact that she wasn't getting as many opportunities to finish was hurting her
game, and ultimately the rest of the team. A neutral-court game against #6
Louisiana Tech would go a long way in determining the team's fate. A win
would give them a couple of top-ten wins and make them a contender again. A
loss could have sent the team into a real tailspin. Fortunately, the
Big Three came ready to play, as evidenced by 16 points from Tillis,
19 from Currie and 16 points & 11 assists from Beard. The Lady Techsters
faced matchup problems all day as their frenetic style of play was just
fine by Duke. The Devils forced a lot of turnovers with their quickness
and converted in transition. La. Tech eventually caught up when they went
to their halfcourt power game, but Duke's defense was tight enough to
keep up their lead and put them away down the stretch.

It was after this huge win that White and Craig both left the team. It
was a real blow because the team was starting to round back into shape
a bit, even if not every player was firing on all cylinders. But with a
roster of just eight, the lessons that Coach G had been trying to pound
into the players' heads all year would be truly tested. Perhaps it was
a case of a young team finally rounding into form; perhaps it was the
removal of two players who were hurting team chemistry; perhaps it was a
complacent group of players who finally got the kick in the pants that
they needed. Whatever it was, Duke absolutely destroyed the opponent
they were waiting to play when White decided to transfer, the University
of Virginia. The Hoos were exceedingly young but still had familiar faces
like Telisha Quarles, and more importantly, longtime Coach Debbie Ryan. She
actually gave Coach G a pep talk before the game, urging her to believe in
herself and her system and not to let the transfers get her down. I would
have loved to have been in the locker room before the game started for Coach
G's pep talk, because it lit a fire under her team. More to the point,
her group took on a "no more excuses" mentality of maximum effort and
pressure no matter the opponent. Virginia was 5-2 at that point and had
beaten some good teams, but Duke blew them off the court in the first
half, storming out to a 56-27 lead at intermission. Six players were in
double figures led by Beard with 23, who had a near triple-double. Duke
shot an absurd 60%, kept the turnovers low and played smothering defense.
The Devils even shot 7-11 from three for 64%, by far their best mark of the
year. Duke also held a +16 edge on the boards. Beard was the biggest
story in terms of her all-around game, hitting her first three of the year,
though Krista Gingrich's sudden resurgence was also startling.

A couple of days later, Duke hammered a decent Georgetown team, this
time turning a 9 point halftime lead into a second-half blowout. Duke
almost got seven players into double figures! Duke returned home to play
UNC-G and Alana once again turned a competitive game into a blowout with 10
quick points early in the second half. Coach G notched her 214th career win,
the most ever at Duke. Duke then whipped Big South stalwarts Liberty
with only 7 healthy players as Gingrich sat out this game. Even Whitley
looked like she was coming down with something, shivering on the sidelines.
Duke's now-lethal offense was too much for the Flames to handle. Duke was
averaging about 90 ppg and had held their last three opponents to under 60
points. But all of this was a prelude to the Big Test: #2 Tennessee. Duke
had climbed back into the national top ten after falling to #14, but no one
knew if Duke was ready to deal with the Lady Vols.

The Vols quickly got out to a ten point lead and then held Duke at arm's
length, thanks to their rebounding prowess. They were +16 against Duke
and their 17 offensive rebounds led to many extra baskets. Meanwhile,
Currie and Tillis combined to go 7-33 from the floor against UT's huge
front line. Duke was also overcome by Tennessee's tremendous depth, as
they used 13 players in the game. Throw in unusually bad foul shooting
(62%) and 22 turnovers, and you don't have much of a chance. Duke would
make a couple of runs here and there, but the outcome was never really in
doubt. Even though this was a loss, the attitude here was to learn an
important lesson and use it. Duke had a chance to do that right away,
playing Georgia Tech just 3 days later. All of Duke's starters struggled
in this game, with Beard scoring just 6 points. But Tillis hit several
key buckets and the bench scored 37 points (including 14-14 from the line!)
to secure a come-from-behind win. With Michele Matyasovsky scoring many
of the crucial baskets in this game, Duke set a pattern of finding whatever
they needed from any of their players. Mattie was mostly a role player who
filled in where she was needed but rarely scored a lot; in this game, she
sensed that Duke needed her shooting. Even more than the Louisiana Tech game,
this was the contest that really set Duke on their way. They bounced right
back from a bad loss, rallied from behind and managed to get to the line to
win. This game started a string of games that can only be described as

The victory over Georgia Tech not only gave Duke a 2-0 start in the
ACC, it also secured their second ACC road win of the year. Getting one
in Charlottesville was especially sweet, considering Duke's past troubles
there. The Devils returned home to play a couple of games that they were
favored to win. Maryland was the first opponent, a team that was a
preseason top-25 pick but was now hanging on for dear life. Despite
returning all of their players from an NCAA squad, this group looked
lifeless. The game became an object lesson to Duke's opponents who didn't
try to use zone and didn't double-team Alana Beard: she scored 35 points,
including 25 in the decisive first half. Even though the Terps shot over 50%,
they never came closer than 14 points in the second half. Duke's next
opponent, Wake Forest, was having a typically poor season. But their young
players made it interesting for the first ten minutes of the game in Cameron,
until a 16-0 Duke run opened things up for what would become a 45-point
massacre. Tillis was in a groove by now, putting up big numbers across the

The Devils had completed the first quarter of their ACC season undefeated
and in first place. Greater challenges awaited them with road games
against Clemson and NC State, as well as a showdown with North Carolina.
Duke had lost five of their last seven games in Clemson's Littlejohn Coliseum,
including a thrashing in 2001 that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Things didn't look good to start this game either, with the Tigers bolting out
to a 7-0 lead. Duke countered with a 22-0 run of their own over a nine minute
span, absolutely shutting Clemson down. Four players were in double figures
for the Devils, with another four scoring 6 or more points. Duke flattened
them on the boards while shooting 54%. They were still turning the ball
over too much (22 times) but that was in the course of running the Tigers
off their own floor. There was another lineup change for Duke, however:
Monique Currie replaced Sheana Mosch. Mo at this point had become one
of the team's best scorers and the premier offensive rebounder. Sheana wasn't
playing poorly, just not as well as Currie--though she certainly wasn't
dominating like she did at times in 2001.

The game at NC State was Duke's first big ACC showdown of the year. The
Devils were now 5-0 in the ACC while State was 3-1 after coming up with a
big win at UNC. A victory would give Duke a 2 1/2 game lead in the race for
first place. This one would turn out to be one of Duke's toughest games all
year. The Pack were suffering from injuries and defections, especially in
their backcourt. But their frontcourt was the best in the league, and there
were some concerns about how to deal with it. The Pack made things harder
by shooting unusually well in this game, but it was Duke who made the
big plays down the stretch. Beard scored 21 in the first half but was
face-guarded in the second, leaving it up to Tillis to score 16 in the second
half. Both Beard and Currie made some clutch free throws in the waning
seconds of the game after Tillis hit a couple of late threes. This was
Duke's most impressive win to date as it came against a large, hostile crowd
and a team that believed they could beat them. The Devils simply didn't
fold when things got hot in winning time.

Duke then had a home rematch with a Virginia team that was a pleasant surprise
at 3-3 in the ACC. The Devils had a full week off to rest, but they weren't
rusty in the early going, blowing out to a 9-0 lead and never looking back.
Duke went through periods in this game when they couldn't score or play
defense, and Whitley looked like she had lost all confidence in her offense.
But the bench played well and Krapohl gave Duke a lift with 4 threes. That
set up a showdown with UNC. The Heels, after starting 4-1 in ACC play, were
suddenly struggling. Georgia Tech came into Chapel Hill and smoked 'em,
which led to an incident where Heel star Nikki Teasley lost her cool after
the game and was slapped with a one-game suspension. That happened to be
against Wake Forest, who upset them in a poorly-played contest. A UNC win
against Duke would keep them within two games of first place at the halfway
point of the ACC season.

Duke led by a few points early on, expanded it to about ten midway through
the half, and Beard then led an explosion that gave Duke a commanding
54-32 edge. Duke was repeatedly turning the Heels over while easily beating
them off the dribble. Currie in particular was torturing them, especially
since they gave her all the room she wanted to drive to the basket. Not
surprisingly, a game with UNC got very physical--but Duke was giving as good
as they got.

Duke was now 8-0 in the league and in absolute command of their own
destiny. The Devils scored over a hundred points for the second game in
a row against big-time underachievers Florida State. The interesting
thing is that the bench scored exactly half of Duke's point total, including
33 of Duke's 57 halftime points. Mosch, Matyasovsky and Gingrich were
bringing a tremendous amount of intensity off the bench. The Devils faced
a more interesting challenge in their next game against Georgia Tech. The
Jackets, after kicking star player Neisha Butler off the team, suddenly
went on a tear and were 6-3 in the league with upsets against Clemson and
UNC. A victory over Duke would bring them within two games of the lead
and suddenly make it a race again.

The Jackets went zone, and while Duke struggled with their shooting, they
made up for it with tremendous defense and a virtuoso performance early on
by Mo Currie and a late-half takeover from Tillis and Beard. Like in many
other games, Duke took a small but substantial lead, put the pressure on
near the end of the first half (leading 37-18) and came up with a big run
to put the game away for good. The Devils then travelled to College Park
for another game against a group of underachievers, Maryland. One change that
had been made was replacing Whitley with Matyasovsky in the starting lineup.
Michele had been a steady contributor the last few games, while Wynter looked
consistently uneasy on offense. The move would prove to be a beneficial one
for both players.

Duke was sloppy and inpatient against Maryland's slowdown tactics, but a big
second half burst right out of the locker room gave Duke the room they needed.
Their superior rebounding along with another great showing by Beard & Currie
(plus some timely shooting from Krapohl) gave Duke the win. The Devils
were now 11-0 in ACC play and talk was starting to surface about an
undefeated season.

That chatter was quickly squelched, but the thought was certainly on
everyone's minds. It didn't distract them against Wake Forest as the Devils
put six players into double figures. Several players said that their goal
was to get all eight players into double digits. It never did happen, but
it was still a nice thing to shoot for. Amazingly, Duke could clinch the
ACC regular season title in just their 13th league game. The opponent
would be Clemson, a team that was just a game above .500 in the ACC and
fighting for an NCAA berth. Coach Jim Davis had marveled over Duke achieving
so much with only 8 players, wishing that he had 8 good players on his
larger roster. Of course, he was dying for another crack at Duke and a win
that would go a long way to getting into the Big Dance. He changed tactics
for this game and had a sound plan, pressuring Duke's point guards, slowing
down the game, and attacking Duke off the dribble. The last thing he did
was face-guard Beard the entire game--he wanted to have someone else beat
his team. His plan almost worked but he had no answer for Tillis' versatility
or Currie's power. Gingrich played some big minutes and used her experience
to make a few big plays. Duke had double-digit leads that Clemson pared away
time and again, coming within 4 with two minutes left. But Duke made the
defensive plays when necessary, and held on to clinch first place for
the fourth time in five years.

Duke had eight days off to rest and get ready for the home stretch of
the regular season. They would face now-reeling NC State, a team that was
just 5-8 in the ACC after several close losses. They'd get back a player
who was missing in their earlier game with Duke, big-time scorer Carisse
Moody. The two teams fought to a standstill in the first sixteen minutes
of the half, with State battling back from an 11-point deficit to tie things
up at 30. The Devils stiffened on defense, attacking State's weakness at
point guard to rattle off 8 straight points to end the half. Things only
got worse for the Wolfpack Women as Duke unveiled a point zone defense that
utterly baffled State for most of the half. The defense packed it in on
the post players while deploying Beard as a rover to attack the ballhandler
and shooters. The result was a 43-24 second half rout and brilliant
performances from the Big Three.

The players all wore temporary "KG" tattoos in honor of Krista Gingrich
on Senior Day, which turned out to be a rather routine dismantling of an
overmatched FSU team. This meant that Duke was 15-0 in the ACC with only
a Senior Day showdown in Chapel Hill remaining. It would be against Nikki
Teasley in her final regular season home game. The Heels wanted this one
badly--not just to break up Duke's perfect string, but to ensure that they'd
get to host the first round of the NCAA's. Since their loss to Duke, the
Heels had turned things around, and it was thanks mostly to Teasley returning
to her natural point guard slot. UNC was 11-4 in the league and undefeated
since the loss in Cameron. The Heels came out firing, dropping a number of
threes on Duke and taking an early 20-13 lead. The Devils never panicked,
even when the Heels increased the lead to 27-18. Beard and Gingrich kept Duke
in the game until the Devils got a big boost from Whitley, who played superb
defense and hit a key three pointer right before the half. The Devils kept
things rolling in what would turn out to be an improbable 44-10 run. The
Heels kept missing jumpers and Duke would get the rebound and outlet it for an
easy score--lather, rinse, repeat. Duke had finished the regular season
undefeated and was now going to try to cap it off with an ACC Tournament title
as well--something that had never before been accomplished.

The first round game against FSU (an ACC tourney opponent for the fourth
straight year) was ugly, and that's a charitable description. Duke was
outrebounded, shot poorly against the zone and acted as though they wanted
to be up by 30 without doing the actual labor. Whitley once again was
a spark off the bench, along with the usual contributions of the Big Three.
Virginia came along in the second round, a team Duke hadn't played in
nearly 40 days due to a quirk in the schedule. Well, the young Cavs had
grown up and were heading for the NCAA tournament, winning 5 of their last
6 games. Duke kept them at arm's length for most of the first half, but
a half-ending 14-3 run sparked by Beard and Whitley gave them firm control of
the game at 35-21. The Hoos cut it to single digits, then went cold as Duke
had an 18 point lead with four minutes to go. Then came an epic comeback/
collapse, depending on one's point of view. Duke made a few mistakes that
snowballed and Virginia's Telisha Quarles suddenly became unstoppable, and
Virginia suddenly was within 3 points with nine seconds left. But a Cav
turnover ended the proceedings as Duke limped into the finals against
their old friends from UNC.

The Heels were well known for their recent success in the ACC Tournament,
winning it in 94, 95, 97 and 98. They also went to the finals in 99 and
00. In most of these years, they didn't finish in first place, so there
was no intimidation factor for Sylvia Hatchell's bunch. The Heels blew out
to an early lead as Teasley was clearly feeling it, though Beard was matching
her step-for-step. Duke took an early lead behind Currie's power drives
that UNC was unable to stop, but UNC countered with their overwhelming
offensive rebounding ability. A late Mosch three made it 38-37 in favor
of the Heels at the half. After staying within range for the first few
minutes of the second half, a scoring outburst gave the Heels a 59-47 lead
with twelve minutes to go. Gingrich, Beard and Whitley led a comeback
that Tillis completed with a three that tied things up at 68. After that,
Beard simply took over, breaking off move after move as Duke held on.

2001-2002 Blue Devils
Date Opponent Result Site
Nov 11 Texas Tech* W 85-69 Durham
Nov 16 Elon W 102-52 Durham
Nov 18 Toledo L 71-65 Toledo
Nov 24 Davidson** W 107-58 Durham
Nov 25 South Carolina** L 87-81 (OT) Durham
Nov 29 Charlotte W 64-39 Charlotte
Dec 2 Louisiana Tech*** W 76-64 Orlando
Dec 6 Virginia W 107-73 Charlottesville
Dec 8 Georgetown W 89-54 Washington, DC
Dec 16 UNC-Greensboro W 90-58 Durham
Dec 20 Liberty W 95-53 Durham
Dec 27 Tennessee^ L 89-68 Atlanta
Dec 30 Georgia Tech W 76-60 Atlanta
Jan 2 Maryland W 90-74 Durham
Jan 6 Wake Forest W 91-46 Durham
Jan 10 Clemson W 81-58 Clemson
Jan 13 NC State W 73-68 Raleigh
Jan 20 Virginia W 86-69 Durham
Jan 24 UNC W 102-82 Durham
Jan 27 FSU W 102-80 Tallahassee
Jan 31 Georgia Tech W 86-50 Durham
Feb 2 Maryland W 66-55 College Park
Feb 7 Wake Forest W 83-60 Winston-Salem
Feb 10 Clemson W 77-69 Durham
Feb 18 NC State W 81-54 Durham
Feb 21 FSU W 88-55 Durham
Feb 24 UNC W 90-75 Chapel Hill
Mar 1 FSU^^ W 82-66 Greensboro
Mar 2 Virginia^^ W 71-67 Greensboro
Mar 3 UNC^^ W 87-80 Greensboro
Mar 15 Norfolk State^^^ W 95-48 Durham
Mar 17 TCU^^^ W 76-66 Durham
Mar 23 Texas& W 62-46 Raleigh
Mar 25 South Carolina& W 77-68 Raleigh
Mar 29 Oklahoma&& L 86-71 San Antonio

* State Farm Women's Tip-Off Classic

** Duke Classic
*** Honda Elite Classic
^ ACC/SEC Shootout
^^ ACC Tournament (Greensboro)
^^^ NCAA 1st & 2nd Round (Durham)
& NCAA Regional (Raleigh)
&& NCAA Final Four

It was Duke's third ACC title in a row, a feat that had only been previously
accomplished early in league history. The win gave Coach G a 16-5 record
in the ACC tournament and a winning record against every other ACC coach.
Duke noticeably tightened up in the tourney--it was clear that the pressure
was getting to them a bit. But MVP Currie, spectacular Beard and steady
vet Gingrich were the keys to beating back UNC for a third time and inducing
all kinds of agita in Sylvia Hatchell, who couldn't believe she had lost for
a third time to Duke despite forcing 21 turnovers and getting 22 offensive

Going 19-0 secured Duke's second consecutive NCAA #1 seed, and the best news
is that it was in the East. Winning their first two games in Cameron
would mean travelling to the ESA in Raleigh for the East Regional. They
started with MEAC champ Norfolk State in a game that was over rather quickly,
though a good time was had by all. Duke shot 60%, was +21 on the boards and
got six players into double figures. Things were quite a bit tougher against
top-25 TCU, the Conference USA regular season champ. The Lady Frogs went
out to an early 12-6 advantage before Currie got going. Duke took the lead
at the nine minute mark of the half, before forcing some more turnovers and
going on a big run, turning a 19-18 lead into a 34-23 halftime margin.
Currie had 14 of those points as Duke did a great job on defense. Duke kept
TCU at arm's length for most of the second half but was never quite able to
break the game open. TCU got the margin under 10 several times in the last
few minutes, but Duke's usual solid foul shooting down the stretch clinched
things. This was not a pretty win by any means, but that didn't matter much
at this point. Duke was going to its fifth straight Sweet Sixteen.

The Devils faced another team from the Lone Star State, the Lady Longhorns
of Texas. This was another top 25 team that was very young and erratic, but
had beaten top 5 teams Oklahoma and Tennessee. In another ugly game, Duke
completely shut down Texas' offense with a scheme that blanketed their two
inside forces, Stacy Stephens and Heather Schreiber. The Devils shot just 35%
but won the battle of the boards and forced 24 turnovers. Sheana Mosch
proved to be the x-factor for the Devils, coming up with several crucial
offensive and defensive plays when Texas made a second half run. She helped
turn a close game into a laugher down the stretch. That set up a rematch
with the #3 seed, South Carolina. The Lady Gamecocks had had a breakout
season, staying in the top ten most of the year until some late-season
injuries led to losses. But they were now healthy and ready to play. Duke's
thirst for revenge turned out to be a big positive for them. The Devils
were less worried about the pressure of being a #1 seed playing for the Final
Four and more interested in getting back at a team that danced on their
floor and mugged for the cameras after winning the Duke Classic. A photo
of USC star Jocelyn Penn doing just that appeared on the cover of the Duke
Chronicle the very next day, and I would guess that that photo was prominently
displayed in the Duke locker room.

USC got off to a quick start, blowing out to an 8-0 lead as Duke's
triangle-and-two defense wasn't confusing anyone except themselves. Coach G
switched to straight up man-to-man and brought in Gingrich to calm everyone
down. Duke ran off 7 straight points and it was a game again. Things were
tight until Duke went on a 14-0 run highlighted by Duke's heretofore little-
seen shotblocking ability. Gingrich, Mosch and Beard led the offensive charge
and took a 13-point halftime lead. The teams exchanged runs early in the
half, but Duke still held a 9-point lead with fifteen minutes to go. The
Gamecocks went on a 13-3 run but Duke didn't panic as Beard responded
with a three point play. Baskets by Currie and Whitley and an exchange of
threes by Gingrich and USC's Kelly Morrone left Duke with a 5 point lead
with about five minutes left. Duke would up it to 9 thanks to Beard but
several critical errors let USC back into the game. Down just 5 and with
the ball, USC missed a crucial close shot that Currie rebounded. She was
fouled and made both shots. Tillis then scored in transition to pretty much
salt the game away as Duke hit their free throws down the stretch. Amazingly,
Duke was on their way to San Antonio!

Beard was East Region MVP and Gingrich was on her way to the second Final
Four of her career. The Devils had just won their school record 31st game
as part of a school record 22nd consecutive victory. Their youth showed
against Oklahoma, however. This was the #2 team in the country and a group
with several seniors. They had survived the most brutal conference in the
country, the Big Twelve. While nowhere near as powerful as undefeated
UConn, the Sooners were the clear favorites. After a quick start, Duke
started taking bad shots. Oklahoma broke open a close game with a 16-3
run. Duke battled back to within 5 thanks to the foul line, but the Sooners
took command with an 8-2 run that gave them a 12 point lead at the half.
The dispirited Devils then found themselves down 16 three minutes into the
second half, but chipped away at the lead and then went on a 12-2 run led
by Tillis to come within 64-62. Oklahoma responded with a 10-1 run that
included a number of clutch jumpers, and Duke simply fell apart down the
stretch. Their youth caught up with them on the game's biggest stage against
a poised club that gave #1 UConn a scare the next day.

Duke certainly had the potential to beat them, but the truth is that their
execution had been ragged ever since the end of the regular season. I think
the greater intensity of postseason play caught up with Duke's depth, youth
and size. But really, making it to the Final Four and going undefeated in
the ACC were incredible accomplishments. They went much farther than I
anticipated simply because they were so good at dealing with pressure
situations. But the team had limitations. They were not strong inside
other than Whitley, and even she went through periods of self-doubt in
dealing with top-rank post players. Point guard play was extremely solid
but not at the level of a Stacy Dales or Sue Bird, and teams with the right
personnel often pressured Duke here in an effort to turn over Krapohl.
Duke used quickness and positioning to become a great rebounding club, but
were helpless against strong, athletic teams that went hard to the boards.
They lacked the size to become a great offensive rebounding team themselves.
The Devils had players at every position who could hit threes, but there
was no one on the team whom one would consider a consistently dangerous
outside shooter.

At the same time, every player left on Duke's roster had done something
important at some time of the year, and several had transformed themselves
into stars. Tillis was one of the best players in the conference and in
the country until she hit an offensive slump late in the year. Krapohl
went from being an end-of-the-bench practice player to a valuable starter.
Both frosh came in and did some remarkable things. Gingrich resurrected
her career with a series of gutty performances in big games. Matyasovsky
handled the added responsiblity of starting while Mosch dealt with being
demoted with maturity. And Beard went from being a star-in-waiting to just
"star", no qualifiers necessary. Getting to the Final Four was crucial
for her development, because she now understands what is needed to win at
that level. She has already vowed that Duke will be back and I'm not one
to doubt her word.

Let's take a quick look at Duke's numbers. They led the ACC in scoring
(83.9 ppg), scoring margin (+19.2, a Duke record), field goal percentage
(49%, best in Duke history), 3-point field goal percentage (38.3%), free throw
percentage (76%, best in ACC history), field goal % defense (38.1%), assists
(678/19.4 per game, a Duke record), steals (11.7), assist to turnover
ratio (1.17:1) and most remarkably of all, defensive rebounds (28.03).
Duke was also 4th in scoring defense (64.3 ppg), 5th in 3 point defense %
(30.8%), third in rebounding offense (40.7), 2nd in rebounding defense (35.4),
2nd in rebounding margin (+5.3), 2nd in blocked shots (3.7 per game),
3rd in turnover margin (+3.15) and 7th in offensive rebounds (12.76). So
Duke led the league in 10 different team categories and was second in three
others. Simply mind-boggling. Duke set team records for ACC wins, fewest ACC
losses, total points scored (2922), field goals (1080), free throws (576),
ACC winning percentage, consecutive ACC wins and consecutive road wins and
best ACC start. As improbable as it seemed after a 3-2 start, the 2002
Devils were the best Duke team of all time. The only other team within
shouting distance is the 1999 squad. That group lost more games and didn't
win the ACC title, though they did have a tougher schedule and made it to
the NCAA finals after several big upsets. That team was also much deeper
and more experienced than this group, advantages that the 2002 team didn't
have to fall back on. The 2002 squad was much more versatile, defended
better and was much more dynamic offensively. The 1999 group had better
inside-outside balance. A game between the two teams would be fascinating
to watch, but I think the presence of three players who will go on to be
considered three of the program's all-time greats (Beard, Tillis, Currie)
gives 2002 the slight edge. That, and the fact that Coach G was three
years wiser.

Speaking of which, Coach G took home another ACC coach of the year award
and was a finalist for Naismith coach of the year, as well as being WBCA
District II coach of the year. There's no question in my mind that this
was her finest coaching job, given the circumstances and the team's weaknesses.
Losing two players so quickly and her "right arm" Boyle was a blow, but
to her credit she came out of it quickly. More than that, she turned
team weaknesses into strengths. The reason she was able to do it was
because of the versatility she has been preaching for so many years. Having
players who could play inside and out softened the blow of the transfers
considerably. A lack of a true outside threat was fixed when every single
player became a decent three point shooter and the offense was designed
to get open shots for the best shooters (Gingrich and Krapohl). Those
two weren't able to get their own shots, but were perfect zone busters if
their teammates looked for them. The team wasn't that strong, so Coach
G carefully emphasized the importance of quick reaction times and positioning.
Tillis in particular took advantage of her many physical blessings with a
newfound toughness.

Coach G also maximized talent--moving Alana back to off guard
to get her more opportunities, simplifying things for Monique to provide
the biggest impact, fiddling with the starting lineup until the perfect
blend of skills and chemistry resulted, convincing Iciss to stay in the
low post more, recognizing what Michele brought to the table--all of these
things and more came as a result of knowing her players and helping them
work on their flaws. Her game preparation and motivational skills were
also superb, coming up with some great plans to neutralize their ACC
opponents in particular. Coach G also did a great job instilling a "next
play" mentality in perfectionists like Beard and those trying to regain
their confidence like Tillis--if they made a mistake, just move on to
the next play; if they made a good play, don't dwell on it too long and
get back to work. Above all else, Coach G knew that speed kills: Duke's
quickness was a weapon that most teams couldn't counter. The Devils could
turn games around very rapidly by turning up the pressure and cranking up
their transition game. Knowing that meant that Duke was never out of a
game despite the score because of their quick-strike capability, which gave
the whole team a calm demeanor.

2002 was a dream season for Duke, one where nearly every best-case
scenario came true. As I said over and over again during the season,
this is truly the Golden Age of Duke women's basketball, where the Devils
are dominating the ACC on a regular basis, are getting some of the best
talent in the country, and have a brilliant young coach who has now
cultivated enough experience to be called one of the best in the country.
All of that said, what's truly amazing is that the best may be yet to
come. Beard has become the sort of rare talent that draws in other great
players who want to be on the same team with her; this already has
happened with Currie, for example. Duke has reeled in four spectacular
recruiting classes in a row and is now consistently drawing attention
from the best players in the country. The addition of Georgia Schweitzer
to the coaching staff not only brought in a great young mind, but also
someone who knows what it takes to succeed in this program at a high level--
as well as get to the WNBA. With the present looking bright, it's time
to plan for the future, which means increasing attendance, raising the
profile of the women's game in general and taking certain other steps
which will be announced in this space shortly. But for now, it's
appropriate to simply admire what this remarkable group of women
accomplished and the joy they brought to the task.

by Rob Clough