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History Is Made In Hartford

Duke 68, Connecticut 67. January 3, 2004. Hartford Civic Center.

H-S | H-S
| Chron

The biggest win in the history of the program was Duke's regional final
upset of Tennessee in 1999. The Lady Vols had just won 3 straight
national titles and had one of the best players in the history of the game
in Chamique Holdsclaw. They were the gold standard of women's basketball,
a game that Pat Summitt had complete control over. However, since 2000,
the new gold standard has been UConn, a program molded in the image of its
supremely cocky and arrogant coach, Geno Auriemma. A master of mindgames,
Geno loves getting under the skin of his opponents, especially Summitt.
His team takes its cues from him, and one can sense their sneering at
their opponents as they run them off the court. With their enormously
devoted fanbase and remarkable run in the NCAA's the past few years, they
use their #1 ranking as a weapon to intimidate their foes. Beyond that
mental edge, the Huskies excel at taking teams out of their comfort zones.
69 straight home wins, 76 straight regular season wins and just a tiny
handful of losses overall in the past few years means that the Huskies
almost always find a way to win--even if their overall schedule is not as
impressive as a team like Tennessee's. Despite the fact that Duke is a
much tougher team, both physically and mentally, than they've been in
past years, they still had a lot of trouble dealing with the pressure
that UConn hit them with early on.

More on that in a moment. First a quick evaluation of where this game
stands in Duke history. No one on the Duke team would say this was a
great game for Duke, but rather a great comeback. The obvious comparison
on the men's side is the Miracle Minute game against Maryland, where a
team is kicked around for most of the game but is never quite put away,
and then steals it at the end. Duke cut the deficit a bit quicker in this
game, but the final shot by Jess Foley was far more dramatic. The only
two women's games that compare both come from my beloved '95 team. The
first was Ali Day hitting the game-winning shot to beat #3 UNC in Cameron
at the buzzer, the ball bouncing three times before it fell in. The
second was "Kardiac" Kira Orr leading Duke from 20 down (sound familiar?)
against Virginia in the '95 ACC semifinals, hitting a three at the buzzer
to send the game into overtime and then hitting an 18' jumper at the
buzzer to win it in overtime. The UConn game is greater than either
because of the opponent and what they've accomplished.

That aside, the reality is that what this win means is just one win. No
titles, not even a bump up in conference. What matters isn't the win, but
rather how the team reacts to it. Getting a little too happy about it and
then coming out sloppy against FSU (a team that is fully capable of
beating Duke) would accomplish nothing. Luckily, given the fact that Duke
was basically tossed around like rag dolls for 35 minutes might inject a
little dose of reality that this is just the beginning, and that the team
still needs to do a lot of things to improve. Quotes from Coach G and
Alana say as much. However, UConn is the one major program that Coach G
had never beaten, and psychologically it was important for the team and
the program to knock them off. Doing this on the road, against a hostile
crowd, makes the achievement all the more impressive. The win was also
important for the game, because Duke exposed a number of weaknesses on
this UConn team. It'll be very interesting to see the matchup between
UConn and Tennessee this year, though it's a pity that the Auriemma chose
such a relatively weak schedule for his team. I'd love to see them play
Texas, Penn State, Stanford, Purdue and the like. We'll see if this
collapse was an aberration or something that other opponents will be able
to exploit. What Duke did to UConn was take away their absolutely
certainty that they were going to win, and made them play not to lose.
UConn lost their swagger; what will be interesting is how long it'll take
to get it back. This was important for the women's game in general,
because Duke erased a little of UConn's aura of invincibility.

To the game itself: the Huskies came out and absolutely smoked Duke for
the first six minutes of the game. The Devils missed 8 of their first 9
shots and turned the ball over 3 times. Meanwhile, the Huskies blew out
to a 14-2 lead, doing it mostly with their punishing and quick post game.
Jessica Moore blew by Mistie Bass a few times and then popped out to hit a
jumper, while Barbara Turner used her strength to punish Duke in the post.
Defensively, the Huskies did pretty much exactly what they did last year
in Cameron: they used their combination of size, quickness and power to
nudge Duke out of its comfortable sets and reduce them to operating as a
bunch of one-on-one players. With none of Beard's (0-7 in the first half)
shots going in and a 1-7 showing from Tillis, the Huskies had Duke right
where they wanted. UConn swarmed Alana and forced her to take quick,
contested jumpers. Monique Currie exploited this attention and didn't
fear UConn's physical play; in many respects, it was her toughness that
was the bedrock of the team's eventual comeback. Mo will make the
occasional mistake in her aggressiveness (she had an offensive foul early
on and later took a somewhat questionable shot at a crucial point in the
game), but one will take that when one sees that she brings so much to the
team. Not surprisingly, she was the only Devil to score during UConn's
early run.

The Devils went on a 9-4 run to get back in the game, sparked by a
Tillis steal leading to a Foley three. Duke got a stop and Lindsey
Harding took a Brittany Hunter rebound and split the defense for a layup.
Diana Taurasi broke that up with a three, but Tillis hit a 15' jumper and
Bass cleaned up a Beard miss with a stickback. With under eleven minutes
to go in the half, Duke was in range. The Huskies then simply found
another gear, and went on a 13-0 run to take control of the game. The
Devils missed 11 shots and committed 3 more turnovers as UConn punished
Duke with pressure defense (an Ashley Battle steal being big) and inside
(with a Turner three point play being big). Sure, they missed a couple of
free throws and shot a bit too quickly from three (1-3 during the
stretch), but they had Duke down 31-11.

Help came from an unexpected source: Lindsey popping a three. This was
the first she hit all year and only the second in her entire career, but
this has been a recent point of emphasis for her by the coaching staff.
UConn then missed a couple of threes in a row and 2 free throws even as
Duke couldn't get anything going, but order seemed to be restored when
Ann Strother (a truly great player) hit a three. It felt like UConn was
ready to do more damage, but Duke suddenly tightened up its post defense
and forced the Huskies to take some more threes, and they didn't drop.
A three from Currie late in the half cut the deficit to 35-18 at the half.
UConn had let the Devils off the hook, but only a little. They were just
7-15 from the free throw line and 4-14 from three. Once Duke settled
down, their defense was actually quite good. Another factor that worked
in Duke's favor was UConn's very short bench. They really played only six
for most of the game, which allowed Duke to wear them down a bit while
still keeping their best players on the floor for most of the game. Duke
was a putrid 7-32 from the field, but had only turned it over 7 times
against a very tough defense. UConn wisely chose not to press, instead
relying on its tough halfcourt defense and getting everyone down the court
to set up as quickly as possible. For Duke's part, though they got
shredded early in the game as they were a bit taken aback, they settled
down and made sure that UConn wasn't going to score in transition either.
One thing was clear: the only way Duke could come back was if they could
force some turnovers.

Up until Currie hit that three, she wasn't exactly setting the court on
fire either. She had been 1-5 from the floor and was hesitant to shoot.
Coach G noted that UConn had scouted her well, daring her to fire away.
That late three sparked Mo a bit, and she came out with a lot more
attitude, getting a stickback after a Beard miss and then nailing a three
on a Beard pass. Duke was within 12 points, and this was a big
psychological boost. Last year in Cameron, UConn came out with a haymaker
to start the second half, delaying Duke's eventual comeback and putting
them in a hole that was just to big to climb out of. UConn didn't exactly
wilt, as Strother hit a jumper and Turner powered up for a three point
play, making it 40-23.

Duke was a lot more organized as a team now, and kept on coming, using
its superior team speed and better passing to counteract UConn's help
defense. Duke uses a lot of screens to set up drives and angles of attack
to the basket, and UConn always seemed to know when to switch to cut that
off. Beard drove and got her first field goal, which was an obvious
relief to both her and the team. Despite an awful shooting game, Tillis
was still going hard to the boards and stuck back a Beard miss. Taurasi
hit another three to break up the run, but Beard dished inside to Bass for
a post-up, and then Tillis got her own miss and tossed in a runner. The
Devils were playing the Huskies a bit better than even now, coming within

In the next six minutes, Duke was able to hang around but never really
cut into that lead very much. There were some nice plays, like a Harding
outlet to Beard who twisted like a pretzel to score on a contested drive,
and Hunter's only score of the game, a post-up after a Beard steal.
Every time Duke got a little closer, someone from UConn would hit a big
shot, like Turner's three point play against Hunter or her subsequent long
jumper. Beard would score on a stickback and Currie on a drive, but with
7:21 remaining, Duke still trailed 59-42.

Then came an 8-0 run where a lot of players got into the act. Harding
passed to Currie, who sank a 15' baseline jumper. Duke forced a turnover
(one of 10 UConn turnovers in the last seven minutes) and Hunter passed to
Harding for another three. Hunter then stole the ball from Turner and
Currie wound up at the free throw line, hitting 1. Another turnover led
to another chance at three for Harding, but she missed a good look at the
basket. Duke forced a stop and Tillis grabbed the board, and Beard scored
on a drive. UConn was reeling and took a timeout. Not surprisingly, Geno
drew up a set play for Taurasi to score on a post-up, and the Huskies
executed it flawlessly. Beard and Tillis missed consecutive shots, and
UConn hit 3-4 from the line to go up 64-50 with under four minutes to go.
The run was seemingly thwarted.

Except that Duke kept on coming. Tillis found Beard for a short jumper
and then forced a miss & then a turnover from Taurasi. Beard drove and
hit a banker off the window to cut the lead to 64-54 with 2:50 left.
Still plenty of time, but a lot of work left to do. Taurasi was fouled
but only hit 1 shot. Harding missed and Moore was fouled, but missed
both. Those shots, combined with their earlier misses, were suddenly
looming large. Beard turned the ball over but then stole it right back
and then nailed a 15' jumper from the wing. The tighter things got, the
better Alana seemed to play. Beard stripped Taurasi, and after missing
two missed attempts, Tillis grabbed the offensive board and passed to an
open Foley on the baseline for a soft 10' jumper. It was suddently a
three possession game with 1:35 to go.

Harding stole a Taurasi inbounds pass and dished it to Currie, who
missed a three but was fouled by Taurasi, who had made mistake after
mistake. Mo missed the first shot but made the next two to cut it to
65-60. UConn managed to get the ball in but Taurasi missed a leaner and
Currie stormed in for the rebound. Harding raced upcourt and found Beard
open at the three point line. Alana had missed her four earlier attempts
from long range but buried this shot, making it 65-63 with 55 seconds to
go. Maria Conlon then threw the ball off of Turner, but Beard missed was
blocked by Taurasi. Turner grabbed the rebound and tried to dribble, but
Tillis swarmed her and got the steal. Iciss then drove to the basket,
pulled up to shoot and instead popped the ball to a cutting Beard to tie
the score at 65 with an eternal 40 seconds left. The Duke bench was going
berserk as Duke kept up the pressure.

Battle turned the ball over to Harding, who passed to Currie. The shot
clock was off, but Mo spotted up for an 18' jumper. Duke probably should
have played for the final shot since the score was tied, but UConn was
reeling at that point, Mo was confident in her jumper and Duke had had
trouble scoring against UConn's set defense. The fact that Duke had no
more timeouts probably figured into that as well. UConn got the timeout
and naturally went to Taurasi. She drove right as Beard misplayed her and
hit a runner to put her team up with under 5 seconds to go. Tillis
hesitated for a fraction of a second because they had no timeouts,
and inbounded to Harding. "The Blur" raced up the court and was trying to
get all the way to the basket but instead saw Foley screaming for the
ball. She passed it to her on the wing as Strother ran out to her. Foley
released the ball just as the clock was expiring and was fouled by
Strother (though it wasn't called) but nailed the three anyway. The team
rushed the court, Christian Laettner-style, and mobbed the Wodonga Wonder.
After a brief review confirmed the shot, the play stood. The Devils shot
46% in the second half and after being -13 in rebounds in the first half,
closed it to 45-41 in the second. Coach G ordered the team to attack and
keep attacking no matter what and not worry about missed shots or style
points. The result was a 30-28 edge in paint points, a 17-8 advantage in
second chance points (thanks to 16 offensive rebounds) and a startling
21-8 edge in points off turnovers. Duke wound up drawing close and
winning because they stayed aggressive and UConn didn't, plain and simple.
While the Huskies were hurt badly by their 15-27 shooting from the line,
Duke's 7-12 wasn't anything to write home about either.

Foley had been sarcastically ripped by Auriemma last year after she
chose Duke over UConn, joking about Australians only knowing Duke and
Stanford and claiming they were drunk on Foster's. Jess took the comment
in stride (Geno has a nasty sense of humor and it is inappropriate for
coaches to make comments about other players, but it was all in fun), in
much the same way Semeka Randall of Tennessee did against UConn in
2000--UConn's last home loss, incidentally. I will allow the reader to
draw their own conclusions.

Duke needs to get off its high quickly, because they play three games in
the next week, including a confrontation with UNC in Cameron. I'm sure
Coach Hatchell considers Duke's win over UConn to be another case of luck.
To be fair, the team still has to integrate the players returning from
injury into the extended lineup and get everyone on the same page. While
the team displayed their resiliency, they should not have been down by
double digits so early in the game. However, if Duke uses this game like
the men's team in 2001 used their own Miracle Minute, we could have some
special treats down the road. And like for the men that year, I wouldn't
be the least bit surprised to face UConn again--this time for much bigger

** Negatives:

1. One-on-one play. It's UConn's specialty: reducing teams to individual
parts. Geno gambled that double-teaming Beard would slow down Duke's
offense such that no one would step up and made Tillis take tough,
contested shots.

2. Post defense. Early in the game, Bass and Tillis were being lit up by
Turner and Moore, and Hunter also struggled at times. Duke eventually
shut both of them down simply by moving their feet a bit quicker.

3. Fouling. Fouling is a symptom of being in bad defensive position, and
this was certainly true of Duke. There were a couple of calls that went
against the Devils (questionable block/charges against Harding and Bass
that could have gone either way), but then the officials also let Duke
play very physically down the stretch.

** Positives:

1. Pressure. Coach G waited to press for a couple of reasons. First,
Duke's press is still a work in progress, as the game against Hampton
showed. The last thing she wanted was easy baskets for UConn. Second,
playing a shorter rotation meant that she wanted fresh players down the
stretch. This wound up working perfectly, because the Devils looked like
they had hardly broken a sweat when they turned the pressure way up, while
UConn's players were gasping for breath.

2. Aggressiveness. Beard and Currie in particular only think of one
thing: attack. Neither has any fear and they don't let game frustrations
get to them.

3. Offensive rebounding. This was a big key. Beard, Currie, Tillis and
Bass all got Duke multiple second chances for scores.


** Bass: Mistie was in severe foul for much of the game, which hurt
because she was actually doing a pretty good job. She scored on a
stickback and a post-up and was also fouled. Bass seemed to be getting
into a groove when she inadvisedly drove to the basket and charged. She
also played a lot better defensively in the second half this year than
last, when she got yanked. While she didn't have as big an impact as she
probably would have liked, she did bounce back from a bad start.

** Tillis: The funny thing about Iciss' game was that UConn had her right
where they wanted her: taking off-balance jumpers, staying out of the
paint and certainly off the foul line. But she didn't give up. Instead,
she found other ways to contribute, especially defensively. Matched up
against Strother for parts of the game, she prevented her from having a
huge impact on the game like last year. Her defense, rebounding and
passing down the stretch (the passes to Foley and Beard for key late
baskets were amazingly poised) was a big key for Duke, with her steal off
Turner being one of the game's biggest plays. This was a turn-the-corner
kind of game for Iciss, and while she didn't dominate either, she most
certainly made her presence felt. Even though she missed a lot of shots
and took some bad ones, it was better than her disappearing from the
offense or tentatively turning the ball over.

** Currie: Perhaps the toughest player around, she overcame a bad start
and UConn's defensive schemes to bring Duke back early in the second half
and make some tremendous defensive plays. She was actually responsible
for breaking up a halfcourt pass on the play that led to Foley's short
jumper, though the steal was credited to Beard. Even though she missed
the first of 3 foul shots after being fouled, she shook it off and hit the
last 2. Proving herself from outside with 2 threes and a 15' jumper
showed that she's ready to extend herself on offense. Combine that with
solid defense and ferocious rebounding (including some key ones down the
stretch) and the difference between this year's team and last year's
becomes all the more obvious.

** Beard: In many ways, Duke's loss to UConn last year clinched Taurasi's
National Player of the Year Award near-sweep. Taurasi's numbers actually
weren't quite as good as Beard's, but she kept that team undefeated for
quite a while, and did it while injured. Taurasi's numbers are better
than Beard's this year, but I suspect that this game may color some votes
down the road in the same fashion...especially if both teams keep winning.
Beard overcoming her awful first half was rather similar to Kira Orr scoring all of her points
after the first in that win over Virginia in '95. There are few human
beings who hate losing as much as she does, so when things get rough, she
gets extra intense. She scored 16 points in the last ten minutes of the
game, and now needs just 4 points to become Duke's all-time leading
scorer. Beyond all that, it was her fierce defense that won the day for
Duke, sending back 4 shots (including one from friendly rival Taurasi) and
grabbing 5 steals. It wasn't a shooting day to remember (9-24), but Beard
has never been about the numbers, amazing as they are. Only about the
wins, as this revenge game proved. Oh, one UConn fan had a sign that said
"Can Beard Shoot?" (for CBS). I think that three she nailed answered that
pretty definitively.

** Harding: Lindsey's progress had been slow this season, with her hand
injury cutting into her ability to mesh well with the team. She had been
tentative on offense, often going entire halves without taking a shot.
While her defense and passing were both sharp, she couldn't remain an
offensive liability for the team. Harding took steps to correct this in
her previous 2 games, even if shots didn't fall. With her team in dire
straits, Lindsey had the guts to take some huge shots from three and was
rewarded. She also kept her composure under pressure and had just 1
turnover, while forcing a couple. One can see her continue to improve
from game to game.

** Foley: Jess had three field goals, and they were all significant: the
early three that broke up a 10-0 run, the baseline jumper that brought
Duke to within 7, and that certain Laettneresque final shot, or should I
say Kardiac Kira? More than that was the fact that she held her own
defensively against a powerful squad, at times guarding Taurasi and
acquitting herself quite well. She also didn't turn the ball over once.
Talking about her in LA, she missed a few good looks at the basket, and it
was noted that if she could just start hitting those, she could become a
great player. This was the game where she started hitting those, and
having the confidence in her own shot rewarded has to be a huge boost for
her as a player. It'll be interesting to see how she reacts to that game
on Monday night.

** Hunter: Brittany was a bit overexcited when she first entered the game
and made a few mistakes on defense. But like the great player she is,
Brit adjusted and made a few key defensive plays down the stretch and had
a couple of critical rebounds. Remember, she's only played in a small
handful of games, so she had to grow up in a hurry. Acquitting herself on
the defensive end (2 steals, 1 block) was a great way to announce that
she's ready to really contribute.

** Krapohl: Vicki just was in for spot duty in the first half and as a way
to get a couple of crucial minutes of rest for Harding. She was
physically overmatched against UConn but made no mistakes during her

** Bales: Ali was in for just a minute towards the end of the first half
as foul insurance.

** The Return to Cameron: DBR board poster Mothra had the following to
offer on Duke's return to Cameron: "I would say there were about 30
people there including Tony Debo from WTVD News Channel 11. The team bus
pulled in around 7:40 and responded to the cheering crowd by honking its
horn. Later, Bobby Sorrell told me that it was Coach G. who did the
honking! The team gave high fives all around, and was very appreciative
of the welcoming party. Alana, Jess, and Coach G. were interviewed by
'TVD. While most of the players said they enjoyed the plane trip home,
it wasn't too much of a party atmosphere -- several remarked on how they
started almostimmediately focusing on the upcoming FSU game. G. said she
wished that they could have a week to enjoy all of this, but it was back
to work today."

(James: I've not felt this good after a win since UNLV!

(Julio: I'll go with the UK win and Jessica Foley should now be calle Sheila Laettner).