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A Few Words on Duke-Tennessee

This Saturday features a #1 vs #2 matchup in Cameron on national TV,
making it an ideal bit of promotion for women's basketball in general.
More than just a game, Duke vs Tennessee has become an Event, much like
last year's Duke-UConn game. Things are a bit different this year than
last, however. The Devils are playing a lot more comfortably as the #1
team this year than last, which probably has more to do with the team's
improved balance than any psychological edge. Still, the team has
experienced two more sellouts in Cameron since the UConn game and of
course faced an incredibly hostile crowd in Hartford earlier this year. I
think Duke is used to the big time by now.

Of course, the bigger event is honoring Alana Beard by retiring her
number. It was clear that she was heading in this direction by the end of
her sophomore year, when she became an All-American and led her team to
the Final Four. The funny thing about giving her the ultimate individual
honor is that few players have shunned the limelight more than Alana. She
has always been supremely confident without being cocky, placing winning
above scoring or individual glory. Her retirement ceremony (at 5:30
sharp, so be there early, fans) is sure to be emotional for the fans who
have watched her during her tenure at Duke. Many of those fans started
attending games because of her greatness. Alana has done more than simply
score a lot of points and win a lot of basketball games; her charm,
charisma and most especially genuine warmth with youngsters have made her
a local legend. Kids flock to her and her gently goofy sense of humor.
Recruits have come to Duke because they wanted to play with her. No one
has ever worked harder in practice than Alana, who has spurred on her
teammates to work harder as well. Alana has grown as a player and person
in her four years, challenging herself to get outside her comfort zones in
order to help her team. At the same time, she transformed herself from a
shy, introverted freshman who had no social life into a gregarious senior
who has learned to put bad plays (and losses) behind her and move on.
Best of all, we still have a few more months to enjoy her presence.

There will be a lot of emotion in the building after the ceremony, and
the team will have to deal with that distraction against the Lady Vols,
the greatest program in women's college basketball. While they haven't
won a national title since 1998, Tennessee is always in the picture. In
many respects, this year may be one of Pat Summitt's finest coaching jobs.
Summitt just coached her 1,000th game for Tennessee and has compiled an
836-134 record in 30 years. The Lady Vols lost All-Americans Kara Lawson
and Gwen Jackson and didn't have a spectacular recruiting year. Did
Summitt complain or even scale back her always-daunting schedule? Of
course not. The Lady Vols have already beaten Notre Dame, Louisiana Tech,
Rutgers, Stanford, Oklahoma, TCU, Old Dominion and Vanderbilt, a truly
impressive line-up. Summitt went back to work and has put together a
team that plays to its strengths and hides its weaknesses as well as any
team in the country. Tennessee is one of the few teams in America that
matches up well against Duke's post rotation, both in terms of size and

It all begins with forward Shyra Ely, averaging 14.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg.
Guard Shanna Zolman has been the big perimeter weapon, scoring 11.8 ppg
and shooting 45% from three. Ashley Robinson, Tasha Butts, Brittany
Jackson and Loree Moore have also had solid years, all averaging between
7.8 and 8.7 ppg for a very balanced team. Robinson also gets 6 rpg and
has played great defense in the post. Jackson is another shooter, hitting
37% from three. Moore is the point guard and leads the team in assists,
while Butts is a physical wing who loves defense. Also helping out in the
post will be Tye'Sha Fluker and Sidney Spencer. Spencer is a Brooke
Smith-like forward who has really been coming on of late, while Fluker is
a post who can hit the three. Taken individually, there's no one on this
team that is having an All-American type season, with the possible
exception of Ely. As a unit, however, the Lady Vols have been imposing,
especially on the defensive end. They are holding opponents to 37% from
the field and 58 ppg overall. They outrebounding opponets by 7 a game and
force 20 turnovers a contest. And remember--these numbers were generated
against some stiff competition. The only team that beat them was
Texas--the only team to beat Duke so far as well.

This will not be a pretty game. It will feature two teams that love to
rebound and play defense at very high levels. The team that rebounds and
defends better will win. Duke will try to turn Tennessee over as much as
possible, and the Lady Vols will once again try to force Duke into taking
quick, contested jumpers. Once again, managing fouls will be crucial,
especially for the post players. I expect this to be a close, exciting
game that could come down to a few crucial possessions. Hopefully, it
will be a great night for women's college basketball as Duke will have the
honor of hosting a great program and tremendous coach as the Blue Devils
honor their greatest player.