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Duke At the ACC Tournament, Part I

The Duke Blue Devils shot 38, 39 and 34% at the ACC Tournament. They
were -5 overall on the boards. Alana Beard was just 14-45 from the field
and averaged just 15 ppg, considerably under her 22 ppg average. Duke
played three highly motivated teams who had a number of players who had
never managed to beat them. Wake Forest was desperate to forge a .500
record in a year of wasted opportunities and hadn't beaten Duke since
1994. Georgia Tech had more or less assured themselves of a tourney bid
by beating FSU, but were also winless against the Devils since 1994. Most
of all, North Carolina hadn't won an ACC title in five years and was
desperate to knock off the program that had eclipsed their own, to grab a
bit of their own glory. Duke fended off every challenge, overcame every
scoring drought, brushed off every elbow thrown and every desperate
attempt to steal away their crown. Despite not operating at full
throttle, Duke won the tournament by an average of 15 ppg! What made the
difference for Duke was its commitment to team defense, something that the
team had to learn in a rather painful manner. For all of the mistakes
that Duke made on offense, they did their best not to compound that on the
defensive end. Against UNC, they raised the level of intensity in a game
that was already a very physical one. The book on Duke is to bump them,
bash them, knock them to the ground. Do anything to disrupt their
offense, and they'll fold. The fact that Duke has learned to respond to
this method and just brush off the contact has been the key to their
success in recent years...and is a big reason why a certain local program
has only beaten Duke once since the 1998 season.

Duke's biggest foe this year was complacency. At certain points, they
simply lacked the competitive fire necessary to survive the ACC wars.
Given that all the talk on Media Day this year was about how unbeatable
Duke was, this only served to motivate the other eight teams in the
conference. What made the difference initially was the indomitable will
of Alana Beard. She put in superhuman effort after superhuman effort to
make sure that her team wouldn't lose. Slowly but surely, the rest of the
team started to catch up with her, to the point where Beard no longer has
to have a great game in order for Duke to win. While Duke's ACC foes
ached to beat them, Duke hungered for something else: greatness. The
truly amazing thing is that Duke did this without one of its very best
players, the unstoppable Monique Currie. Duke has missed her toughness,
rebounding and strength, but her being gone forced Beard & Tillis to
improve their toughness, rebounding and strength. In addition, frosh
sharpshooter Caitlin Howe also missed the season with her knee problems.
This was a big blow because Duke was really counting on her outside
shooting, an area where Duke would struggle all year. In other words,
Duke went 19-0 with one hand tied behind its back!

Round One: Duke 64, Wake Forest 59. February 7, 2003. Greensboro Coliseum.

It was with a feeling of dread that I attended this game. Duke has had
trouble with first-round games in the past (though they haven't lost one
since 1994), and matching up against Wake made me feel even worse. In
2001, Duke played against a Wake squad that was much worse than the
current version. The Devils started out tighter than a drum, unable to
hit anything. Superfrosh Beard & Tillis were very nervous and it showed.
Even worse, senior center Olivia Dardy was suddenly possessed by the
spirit of Hakeem Olajuwon and abused the Devils for 30 points. Senior
Georgia Schweitzer took over the game and told her teammates to give her
the ball and get out of the way. She single-handedly willed Duke to a
victory, but it took overtime to get there.

Early in this game, it didn't seem like overtime would be needed this
time around. The Devils broke out with a 7-0 run featuring an Iciss
Tillis three, an Alana Beard steal & runout, and a Lindsey Harding drive
after a Wake miss. Duke kept rolling, with Beard hitting an 18' jumper
and Harding scoring on a rebound to make it 11-3 with less than four
minutes gone by. The Devils then went to their bench, with Wynter Whitley
scoring on a Krapohl feed and then dishing to Tillis inside for an easy
score. Duke was up 15-5 and looked like they would roll easily. Wake had
missed 5 shots and committed 3 turnovers, while Duke made 7 of their first
11 shots. The Deacs finally woke up with a three from Erin Ferrell, Mo
Currie's ex-high school teammate. Duke countered with Tillis scoring on a
cut from Harding. With thirteen minutes to go in the half, Duke held a
comfortable 17-8 lead. They would not score again for nearly eight

During that span, Duke missed 6 shots and committed 4 turnovers.
Several of the shots were point blank attempts. One of the fouls was an
offensive on Beard, greatly limiting her. Wake wasn't exactly setting the
World on fire either, missing 6 shots and turning the ball over twice.
Still, they got some timely free throw shooting and outhustled Duke on the
offensive boards. Tillis finally broke the cold streak with a rebound of
a Harding miss, but Wake tied things up thanks to yet another offensive
rebound. Beard broke the tie with a free throw. After she missed the
second freebie, an alert Mistie Bass grabbed the rebound and stuck it
back, giving Duke a huge spark. Forcing a miss, Duke was trying to get a
good shot off against Wake's tenacious defense. Sheana Mosch drove and
found Krapohl open for a three, which she managed to hit. After a
timeout, Cotelia Bond-Young of Wake hit a jumper to cut Duke's lead to
25-21. Bass again got a rebound basket after Mosch missed a three. Duke
was up 6 and had a chance to go up even more, but Alana was just 1-2 on
technical foul shots and Duke couldn't score again before the half,
despite having some good looks at the basket. Still, they had averted
disaster, staking out a 28-21 lead.

Wake opened the second half with a three after a Tillis turnover, but
Duke countered with a Michele Matyasovsky jumper and 2 Harding free
throws. Wake drove right at Duke, with Listenbee scoring inside and Tonia
Brown finding a big hole and driving right through it. With two minutes
gone in the half, the Deacs cut the lead to 32-28. It should come as no
surprise that Duke only started to go ahead when they worked hard to take
the ball to the hoop and draw contact. After Lindsey Harding stuck in a
miss by Mattie, Tillis & Beard had back-to-back three point plays. Duke
was suddenly in control with a 40-28 lead.

Or so it seemed. Duke once again endured a scoreless streak, this time
for nearly three minutes. Wake scored 6 straight points during Duke's
drought, with Listenbee posting up and using a lot of different looks
during the game. Beard then took over, scoring 9 straight points for the
Devils. That included a cut, a 15' jumper and a free throw. The lead was
back to 12 and it looked like Beard had saved the day once again. Both
teams traded baskets for a few minutes, with Bass scoring in transition on
a perfect Beard pass and Tillis hitting a turnaround. T.Brown responded
with a three point play of her own. With under ten minutes to go, Duke
seemed to have things well in hand with a 50-39 lead.

Once again, that was just an illusion. Wake scored 6 straight points
thanks to 4 from Listenbee and a deuce by hard-charging Tracy Alston.
Duke went nearly two minutes without a score before Jess Foley hit a
crucial 10' jumper on a pass from Beard. After yet another Listenbee
score, Duke went on a 7-1 run with under four minutes left that seemed to
give Duke enough of a cushion to move on. It was led by Mosch, who first
hit a couple of free throws after a drive, then got a steal and three
point play runout to establish the 59-48 lead. Tonia Brown decided not to
play along, hitting a three with 3:36 left. Bass hit 1 free throw but
Brown drove in quickly to make it 60-53 with 2:32 to go. The Devils
missed twice but were able to wipe out nearly a minute. The teams traded
single foul shots, making it 61-54 with just over a minute left.
Listenbee was fouled going to the hoop and made both.

With over a minute left and a five point lead, all Duke had to do was
run out the clock and go to the foul line, right? Not so fast--usually
reliable Harding coughed up the ball under pressure, leading to a layup
iwht under a minute left. Mosch then turned the ball over on a
five-second call and Brown was fouled going to the basket, wiping out
Tillis in the process. She only made one shot, so Duke had just a 61-59
lead with 26 seconds left. Astonishingly, the Deacs were called for a
technical foul for interfering with the inbounds. Even more
astonishingly, Beard missed both shots! Duke did manage to inbound the
ball to Vicki Krapohl, who hit 1 out of 2 freebies. So with 14 seconds to
go, Wake had a shot to tie the game up. Hitting that one shot did make
the difference, as Duke sent everyone out to guard the perimeter. Brown
got a shot off with Beard in her face. Matyasovsky got the rebound and
tossed it to Harding, who was fouled with two seconds left. Lindsey hit
both as calmly as you please, finally ending the threat. As a wise man
once said, "Survive and advance."

Duke had made a lot of mistakes in the second half, but it was Wake's
guts that kept them hanging around. Listenbee was absolutely brilliant,
measuring Beard step for step and blocking her shot. She wound up with 17
points, finishing her career in style. Meanwhile, Brown had 16 points, 7
rebounds and 4 assists and Ferrell 13 points & 5 rebounds. The Deacs,
outrebounded in 16 of 28 games, finished tied with Duke at 40, including
14 offensive rebounds. The Deacs could only muster 61% from the foul line
to Duke's 70%, and that margin of 5 points proved to be the winning one.
For Duke, Beard led with 18 points, but she was just 6-16 from the floor
and 6-12 from the line. She remained strong defensively, with 7 boards, 3
steals and a block. Tillis had 14 points and 9 rebounds before fouling
out, but had a number of bad turnovers, including being called for 5
seconds closely guarded while simply standing there with the ball. Duke's
bench pitched in 16 points, all of them crucial. Sheana's little outburst
and Mistie's timely rebounds helped carry the team at important moments.
Harding made up for her big gaffe down the stretch with huge free throws,
easily the most important of her career.

Coach G was not all that upset after the game. She noted that she
wanted Duke to be the best team at the end of the tournament, not the
beginning. The Deacs played with a lot of guts and no fear, taking the
game right to Duke. Duke's players hugged Listenbee after the game out of
respect for her final performance. It's a shame that Wake couldn't have
put together more showings like this during the regular season, because it
was obvious that there is real talent on the club. I do hope that
Charlene Curtis gets one more chance with this bunch. She really is a
delightful person with a rare sense of humor. During the introductions,
Duke's ritual is for an announced player to do a chest or elbow bump with
captain Sheana Mosch before running over to shake the hand of the opposing
head coach. After a couple of humorously violent bumps between Mosch and
Duke's players, Curtis got into the act by doing an elbow bump with
Krapohl! Everyone got a chuckle out of this, and I'm sure it kept her own
players loose. Curtis is also a great interview and just seems to
generally be an admirable person. The Deacs were so close to a winning
season, with a pair of 2 point losses to FSU (one in triple OT!), a 3
point loss to NC State, and a 2 point loss to Maryland. Reverse just a
couple of those, and the Deacs are 15-13 and most likely in the WNIT.
Hopefully Curtis will get that chance.

Round Two: Duke 76, Georgia Tech 52. March 9, 2003. G-boro Coliseum.

With the first day jitters out of the way, Duke was able to use its
Saturday bye to practice and rest. Meanwhile, seniors like Rennieka Razor
(Maryland), Chrissy Floyd (Clemson) and Carisse Moody (NC State) played in
their final games. Floyd was one of the best ACC players ever and went out
fighting, scoring 21 points in a close loss to the Heels. Duke's
semifinal foe would be Georgia Tech. As I have written before, Tech is a
team that just does not match up well against Duke. It would require a
freakishly bad game by Duke and a freakishly good one by Tech in order for
them to win. The Jackets had made one key change, inserting wing Megan
Harpring into the lineup instead of power forward Kasha Terry. That gave
Tech a bit more scoring power and versatility and had been a big key in
winning their last 4 ACC games and salvaging a .500 record in the league.

Once again, Duke came out meaning business. After missing their first
three shots, they made their next four en route to an 11-0 start. The
Jackets missed their first five shots and turned the ball over twice.
Back-to-back threes from Krapohl and Beard clearly disturbed Tech's game
plan for a moment. Tillis slipped inside for a turnaround jumper on a
Matyasovsky pass, and Beard followed that with a drive. Beard then
scored on a cut from Tillis, making the score 14-2 with under fifteen
minutes to play in the half. Over the next thirteen minutes, the Jackets
not only managed to hang in there, but would cut the lead to 8.

Duke chose to have Tillis chase around 5-3 point guard Alex Stewart,
Matyasovsky stick to Harpring (while cheating towards Mallory), Beard on
Fallon Stokes (also cheating towards the inside), and Krapohl on Isom.
Tillis sagged off on the non-shooter Stewart as well. This meant that
Tech's big gun often was triple-teamed and wasn't a good enough passer to
get out of trouble. Tech coach Agnus Berenato countered by putting in
Mallorie Winn at point, a much better shooter. Winn responded by hitting
a three right away. Tech still had trouble with Tillis, who hit Whitley
inside and then spotted up for a three. Tech scored 5 straight points,
mostly from the foul line. With eight minutes to go in the half, the
Jackets had cut the lead to 19-12.

Mosch came off the bench to hit an enormous three and Harding followed
that up with a long jumper of her own. Beard had been out of the game for
a few minutes after picking up her second foul. She had a shot blocked by
Terry, which led to Tech scoring on a stickback. A couple of more free
throws made it 24-17 Duke with four minutes to go. Beard countered by
going harder to the hoop and making 2 free throws. Tillis got a couple of
offensive boards and finally made Tech pay with a three. Tech continued
to get it done at the line, with the normally erratic Mallory going 6-6!
A short Alex Stewart jumper made it 29-21 with under two minutes to go.
It wasn't a glamorous game for the Jackets, but they were toughing it out
and staying within range. A couple of mistakes would wind up costing them
dearly before halftime.

First, they lost Tillis on the perimeter, who responded by squaring up
and sending in a three. Mosch picked Stewart's pocket and was fouled.
After she made the first, Bass snatched away the rebound for the second
and stuck it back--the second straight game where she had a big tip-in.
Mallory then missed a shot and Tillis rebounded with 35 seconds to go.
Tech no doubt expected Duke to use as much of the clock as possible before
taking a shot. Instead, Jess Foley found an opening and drove all the way
for a layup. Now Tech had a chance at the final shot. Stewart took a
long jumper that missed with about nine seconds to go. Harding got the
rebound and just took off from one end of the court to the other. At a
certain point, it looked like she would have to pull up for a shot and
Tech was waiting for her to do this. Instead, she just kept accelerating,
scoring on a drive with about a second left on the clock. She just zoomed
by the entire Tech team. The stunned Jackets were suddenly down 39-21. A
manageable game was suddenly a blowout.

Beard and Tillis combined for 21 points, with Tillis also getting 7
rebounds. The bench scored 10 and the team as a whole shot 6-11 from
three--pretty remarkable for a squad that has struggled from the bonus
line so many times this year. Meanwhile, the Jackets were an atrocious
26% from the field. Only their 8-10 showing from the foul line prevented
this from being more of a blowout. Turning the ball over 14 times didn't
help them any, though outrebounding Duke helped their cause a bit.

If Duke's opening flurry was a first-round knockdown and their closing
flurry was a 4th-round knockdown (with a lot of grabbing and body blows
inbetween), then their assault to start the second half was a TKO. The
Devils blasted out of the games with an 11-1 run that turned the game into
a laugher. Tillis scored on a drive, Matyasovsky had a stickback, Bass
had a nifty post pass to Harding, Mosch had a stickback and Beard found
Tillis in transition to complete the run. Six missed shots and 4
turnovers spelled Tech's doom. Duke kept up the pressure by taking it to
the rim. Mosch and Bass both made a couple of freebies and Sheana
followed that up with a runner in the lane to make it 56-26 with thirteen
minutes to go.

Tech finally got off the mat and went on an 8-3 run, broken up by a
Foley three. Beard and Tillis went to the bench for most of the half, but
the younger players really did a nice job stepping in. After that run,
Mosch hit a couple of more free throws and then Lindsey Harding had a
steal and runout. With Tech putting more pressure on Duke's guards, the
Devils dumped the ball into Brooke Smith, who responded with a post up, a
pretty reverse and a score on a cut. That helped blunt Tech's comeback
attempts, despite having hit a couple of threes. The Jackets kept coming
and made things a bit more respectable with a 9-2 run to cut the score to
71-49, but Duke finished strong with a steal & runout from Mosch and a few
more free throws.

Beard and Tillis had a total of 5 points in the second half, but
everyone else combined for 32. The bench came up with 24 points alone,
and that was with Whitley sitting on the bench nursing a head injury.
Their contributions would pay big dividends on Monday night, because Beard
& Tillis would both be fresh down the stretch after playing more limited
minutes on Sunday. Overall, Duke's ability to get to the foul line helped
make up for a lot of missed jumpers. Superb overall defense (holding 16
ppg scorer Mallory to 8 points) and a great game plan also helped make up
for a lot of missed shots. It wasn't a pretty game, but Duke did enough
to prevent another nailbiter against a team that will be in the NCAA
tournament, probably as a 9 or 10 seed.

Coming tomorrow: a recap of the UNC game, player-by-player evaluations,
and NCAA tournament speculation.