The ACC Championship game was an easy one to break down. In the first
half, UNC was able to do what they do best and prevented Duke from doing
what they do best. In the second half, the roles reversed. The Devils
are not a great shooting team when forced to create their own shots. When
players like Alana Beard can penetrate and dish to standstill shooters,
Duke can be deadly. But when Duke has to take pull-up threes with the
shot clock running down, they're in trouble. UNC was running a very
sticky zone in the first half. What made it so effective was that their
guards were quick enough to match up with Beard & Lindsey Harding on the
perimeter, center Candace Sutton was tall enough to be tough to lob over,
and everyone got as physical as possible to bump Duke off their cuts.
Result: Duke was just 10-37 from the field and 1-7 from three. It was the
perfect game plan, albeit an unexciting one. UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell
was used to winning by attacking, not laying in wait. On the other end,
UNC managed to build a lead by pounding it inside. Again, UNC's quickness
helped here. While Duke normally is a very good defensive team against
teams with big post players, the Heels were setting up too quickly for
them, and used the big tandem of 6-6 Sutton and 6-2 Jennifer Thomas to
overwhelm Duke inside.
If one of Duke's flaws is that they sometimes take shots too quickly
when frustrated, then it should be noted that UNC's biggest flaw is
consistency. After they put Duke in a 29-19 hole, they once again had a
chance to score after rebounding a missed three by Tillis. Instead of
pounding it inside once again, Leah Metcalf takes a three and misses.
After getting the ball back, non-shooter La'Tangela Atkinson missed a
jumper. Coretta Brown also missed a jumper down the stretch. Meanwhile,
Duke was able to exploit them defensively thanks to finally being able to
run a bit. UNC still had a lead, but it was just 6 points. It didn't
reflect how good a job they had done in the half.
Rather than patiently sticking with her gameplan, Hatchell panicked and
ordered her team back into man-to-man. I guess the idea was to force Duke
to make mistakes, but the whole thing failed spectacularly. In fact, Duke
was able to exploit every defensive matchup and catch the Heels
flat-footed. For Duke's part, they emphasized what they did best:
pressure the ball. The Heels are a team that lack a true point guard and
can be turned over. They also tend to lose focus at times, a weakness
that has dogged the program for years. But going back to man defense was
a decision that the coach made, not the team--and it played right into
Duke's hands. For their part, the Devils came out knowing that they had
taken UNC's best shot and were down only by 6. The biggest part of
dealing with UNC is their ultra-physical play, especially in dealing with
the extracurricular elbows and cheap shots they like to throw in to get a
team off-balance. In Duke's case, the refs were not going to bail them
out in the first half when Duke's reaction to physical play was to back
down. Only by going hard to the basket and accepting contact would Duke
get the calls they wanted. In the end, Duke simply out-toughed the Heels,
beating them at their own game. They wanted it more and knew how to get
Going back to the beginning, the game was pretty even in the early
going. Coretta Brown, who had been dominated by Lindsey Harding in
Durham, got off to a quick start with 5 points in the first three minutes.
After an early Vicki Krapohl three, Duke went nearly five minutes without
scoring. Of course, the Heels could only managed Brown's 5 points as both
teams were tight. Duke missed 8 of their first 9 shots and turned the
ball over twice, while the Heels missed 6 of their first 8, turned the
ball over 3 times and even missed a couple of free throws. Back to back
three point plays by Beard & Mosch woke Duke up and gave them a 9-5 lead
with six minutes gone by. Five straight points by the Heels (including a
timely three by sub Jessica Sell) gave them the lead, one they would keep
for the rest of the half.
Meanwhile, Duke was having all kinds of struggles. Duke turned the ball
over 5 times in the next six minutes while while Wynter Whitley & Mistie
Bass both missed free throws. The Heels were going inside and out, with
Sutton, Thomas & little-used Carrie Davis scoring inside and Metcalf
hitting a three. Duke managed to stay close with a Whitley stickback, a
Harding steal & layup and a Beard jumper. Over the next five minutes,
Duke would struggle more and more with UNC's zone, missing their next 10
shots. Meanwhile, the Heels were pounding it inside early and often.
They still weren't scoring a lot, thanks to tremendous defense by Beard &
Whitley, but they did manage to open up a 10 point lead at 27-17, with
three minutes to go in the half. After Harding hit a 15' jumper, UNC
countered with a short Sutton jumper to make it 29-19. That's when Mosch
provided a senior spark with a layup, a steal, and another layup. The
Heels had had a chance to really put Duke away and they blew it.
Duke came out as fired up as I've ever seen them, and it took the Heels
aback. The execution was still far from perfect, but the fact that Duke
had 5 offensive rebounds in the half's first four minutes showed just how
hard they were attacking. Beard started the half with a drive and foul,
but she missed the freebie. Brown shot a jumper that missed, and a
Thomas follow-up attempt was blocked by 5-8 Lindsey Harding! After a
couple of misses, Michele Matyasovsky finally got the tip-in. Tillis then
stuck back a Vicki Krapohl miss to tie the game at 31--it was her first
basket of the game. After a Sutton basket, Duke scored 6 in a row, with
Beard hitting 2 free throws, Tillis getting a steal and runout and Harding
sticking back her own miss for a three point play. Duke was all over the
offensive boards and was getting in the passing lanes in a way they
hadn't in the first half.
A three by deep reserve Courtney Chambers cut Duke's lead to 38-36, but
Tillis hit a turnaround to stay ahead. After a Nikki Bell miss, Tillis
continued to stay active by driving in for a layup. Amazingly, the Heels
would not score another field goal in the paint for the rest of the game.
Only 4 three pointers would keep the Heels close, but their offense was
otherwise a shambles. Duke was not exactly singeing the nets either,
hitting just 3 of 7 shots over a four minute stretch. Two of those field
goals were Tillis threes, countering UNC's long jumpers. Beard also got a
stickback as Duke struck out to a 53-44 lead. The Heels slowly countered,scoring 4 points in a row. Brown was giving it everything she had,
stealing the ball twice in a row but missing both times.
Duke was now attacking the Heels off the dribble and drawing fouls left
and right. Anytime this happens, UNC is automatically at a disadvantage
because this tends to disrupt their defensive style. As a result,
Hatchell went berserk on the sidelines. On the Unintentional Comedy
Scale, her little demonstration rated a perfect 100. It was really a
pathetic, last-ditch attempt at firing up her team. Speaking of comedy,
Tillis went to the wrong end of the court to shoot the techs, cracking up
the whole team, who were clearly unimpressed by Hatchell's antics. The
Heels did manage to crawl within 7 points at 63-56 with under three
minutes to go, but missed a free throw, a layup and a three. Duke was
trying for a kill-shot three during that stretch, but could never quite
make it. Still, an offensive rebound with 2:14 left helped run nearly a
minute off the clock. The Heels had to start fouling.
Duke responded by going 12-12 from the line down the stretch. The Heels
in turn could hit nothing, missing 3 layups and a couple of threes. Only
Brown was able to hit a shot, a meaningless three with 24 seconds to go.
Meanwhile, Harding was torturing the Heels on defense, getting 2
steals, one of which she turned into a one-woman fast break. Out came
Beard & Tillis and then came the big celebration. The Devils did it once
again. Tillis was the MVP of the tournament, a welcome sight after her
struggles in Greensboro her first 2 years. She totaled 50 points and 28
rebounds along with 5 steals. Beard was first-team All-Tournament once
again, while Harding & Mosch were both on the second team. Sutton's
domination of Clemson in round 2 and a decent showing against Duke (10
points, 6 rebounds) also put her on the first team, along with the
deserving Brown (who was just 6-18 from the field and had 7 turnovers).
Virginia's Cherrise Graham was the other first team member after she
dropped 36 points on the Heels.
Duke was a solid 43% from the floor in the second half despite shooting
just 2-11 from three. After being outrebounded by 6 in the first half,
Duke went nuts on the boards and wound up winning that battle, 45-42.
Bear in mind that UNC is one of the best rebounding teams in the country,
holding a +9 average margin over their foes. The Devils also didn't
rebound all that well against Wake or Georgia Tech, but they went right at
the Heels and outplayed them. The most remarkable stat was Duke's 21
offensive rebounds--10 of them from Beard and 5 from Tillis. Duke also
turned the Heels over 22 times while keeping their total to just 14.
Hatchell's aw-shucks attitude after Duke whipped her team in Durham
lasted all of one game. After the loss, she alluded to the refs favoring
Tillis and Beard at the foul line and insulted her team by saying that she
wished they had matched her intensity. She made no mention of switching
to a defensive strategy that clearly didn't work. Hatchell just couldn't
resist relying on her team's athleticism, a tactic that has failed again
and again versus Duke. And once Duke adjusted to her team's physical
play, she was out of tricks. What was left, once again, was a group of
talented but directionless athletes that went down hard. Hatchell's
ability to recruit talent will always make UNC dangerous, but her
inability to grow truly talented leaders has prevented the Heels from
The great thing about this tournament for Duke was that they won without
a vintage performance from Beard. She still averaged 15 ppg, 10 rpg, and
3 steals a game--not exactly shabby, but not the same level of offensive
dominance that she displayed during the regular season. Mosch averaged 10
ppg and Harding 12 ppg, 5 rpg and 3 spg. It was the kind of balanced
scoring that Duke had craved all year. In fact, every single member of
the team had a key play or two. Matyasovsky had a key rebound against
Wake Forest and a big tip-in against UNC. Vicki Krapohl hit a big free
throw against Wake and committed just 1 turnover the entire weekend.
Mistie Bass had 2 huge tip-ins against Wake Forest. Brooke Smith stepped
up her play against Georgia Tech, blasting them offensively to prevent any
comeback attempts. Jess Foley hit a key jumper against Wake and was
terrific filling in for a foul-plagued Beard against Georgia Tech. Wynter
Whitley played excellent post defense the entire weekend. It took the
entire team to win this tournament, and they did it with tremendous
togetherness. I never thought I'd see a team match the chemistry of the
2000 or 2002 teams, but this group has been truly amazing. The veterans
have been incredibly supportive of the frosh, while the frosh have
understood that they need to wait their turns. Hopefully this group has
six more wins in them.
** Tillis: Iciss' performance against Wake was worrisome, despite scoring
14 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. She had several bad turnovers and
looked out of synch for much of the game. Iciss has had a history of
fading late in the season and I was worried that this could spell instant
defeat for Duke this year. However, she bounced back nicely against Tech,
burning them for 3 threes while still grabbing 9 boards and playing
excellent defense. Her showing against UNC was one of the best
bounce-backs I've ever seen. After missing all 6 of her shots in the
first half, she simply put all of that aside and just played. Iciss
played to her strengths, using her quickness to deflect passes and
generate steals while using her ballhandling and first step to open up
some room for her to shoot. When she banked in a three midway through the
second half, you knew that the Heels had no chance of stopping her short
of decapitation. Most of all, I was delighted that she won the MVP award,
at last giving her some well-deserved individual attention. And no one
was happier than her friend Alana Beard.
** Matyasovsky: A quiet tournament for Mattie, who nevertheless played a
lot of minutes and had some key plays. Her rebound against Wake literally
saved the game, and her tenacity on the boards against UNC was a big key
in Duke's comeback. Michele also kept the ball moving nicely against
Georgia Tech with 3 assists.
** Beard: Duke's opponents did everything possible to keep Alana away
from the basket and helping once she did go near it. Alana actually had a
couple of shots blocked going to the hoop, which was an unusual occurence
during the regular season. Alana's first game against Wake was shaky; she
actually looked either sick or just utterly exhausted down the stretch.
She missed several key free throws, which almost never happens to her. Onthe other hand, she came out and just put the hurt on Georgia Tech in the
early going, before encountering foul trouble. Once again, her teammates
helped her out. Against UNC, her jumper was not going at all, so she
redoubled her efforts on the boards with a superhuman 20. That's 20
rebounds against an army of superior post players who usually dominate
their foes on the boards. In its own way, it was almost as remarkable as
scoring 41 points against Virginia. It was proof-positive that Alana is
no prima donna scoring machine type; she will do whatever it takes to win.
Make no mistake: Alana's indomitable will is the backbone of this team.
Her belief in their ability to win fuels everyone else's.
** Krapohl: Vicki hit key threes against all 3 foes, but was generally
awful from behind the stripe (1-7 against UNC). She will need to step up
in the NCAA's because teams are going to zone Duke to death and the Devils
will have to bust junk defenses by making them pay. On the other hand,
Vicki continues to play solid defense and make good decisions. She is
truly a role player's role player.
** Harding: Lindsey was brilliant all tournament long, and if the ACC
Rookie of the Year award had been voted on after the event, she might have
won it. (La'Tangela Atkinson of UNC was the winner, though Lindsey came
in third.) In fact, it almost felt like Sheana Mosch was passing on her
mantle of Tar Heel Killer to the frosh; Lindsey has wreaked all kinds of
havoc on the Heels in their last two meetings. Her ability to hit the
mid-range jumper, her rebounding and poise under pressure have made her a
crucial competitor for Duke. Once she found her confidence on offense, it
completely transformed her as a player. Like many talented young
athletes, she was depending too much on her quickness and one-on-one moves
instead of learning where and when to shoot. Once those lessons were
learned, she applied them in the crucible that was the UConn game, and was
a big part of Duke's comeback there. Lindsey has also learned some
important lessons on defense. She doesn't have to go for every steal to
be a good defender. Her lateral quickness is so remarkable that it is
virtually impossible to break her down one-on-one; all Lindsey has to do
is to stay true to defensive fundamentals (legs wide, shoulders forward,
always knowing where the ball and the player are) and no one can beat her
off the dribble. She's so quick that even if someone crosses her over,
she can still recover in time to block the driver. Harding also has the
bonus ability of an absurd vertical, allowing her to grab a lot of
rebounds. Of all Duke's players, I felt the happiest for Lindsey after
the tourney because she's never been on a winning team before. She had to
do everything on her high school team and for little reward, and now she's
reaping the rewards of being another contributor on a great team.
** Mosch: Sheana's 5 point showing against Wake actually broke a string
of 5 straight double digit games, a streak she started again vs Tech and
UNC. Of course, those 5 points were huge, pushing a Duke lead from 6 to
11 in just a minute. Her scores against UNC were absolutely crucial and
sparked the team. Sheana also helped step in for Beard against Tech and
absolutely killed them off the dribble. She's playing with both joy and
brains, knowing when to shoot and when to concentrate on defense,
something that had frustrated her for much of her career. In addition,
she has maintained a fantastic attitude throughout the season, even though
she lost her starting nod. Just watching her do chest bumps with her
teammates during intros and celebrating with them shows that she's making the most of her senior year. In many ways, she reminds me of Krista
Gingrich last year--a player who makes big shots when they count and whose
upbeat attitude energized the whole team. The difference is that Sheana
is completely healthy and is on a big roll.
** Whitley: This has not been a banner year on offense for Wynter, but
she knows that her role is defense and rebounding. While she only had a
couple of rebounds in the ACC Tourney, her defense on Sonja Mallory was
great, before Wynter took a nasty bump to the head. She came back to play
very good defense on Candace Sutton in the finals. I do think that she's
capable of more production at both ends, and will have to come up big
later in the season.
** Bass: Mistie was huge against Wake Forest, getting tip-ins when Duke
desperately needed offense. While she hasn't been getting as many shots
as she did early in the season, she's made them count, shooting a nice
percentage. Having her come off the bench has been a very nice luxury for
Duke, mitigating foul trouble.
** Foley: Jess hit a jumper against Wake when Duke had gone completely
cold, and then did a nice job directing traffic against Tech. She was
held out against the physical Tar Heels, but she will see plenty of action
in the NCAA tournament.
** Smith: Brooke's individual performance against Tech was superb,
hitting all kinds of shots. It was great to see her teammates rally
around her as well--the photo of Tillis walking off the court with her and
the two of them grinning was a nice one. Hopefully Brooke will continue
to improve over the summer and fight for playing time next year.