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#1 Duke Wins 5th Straight ACC Title; Carolina Remains In Hell

Duke 63, UNC 47. March 8, 2004. Greensboro "17-0" Coliseum.

From 1978-1992, Duke went 2-15 in the ACC Tournament. Duke didn't win
their first tourney game until 1985. Gail Goestenkors arrived for the
1993 season, and her first two teams went 0-2 in the tourney. She made
her 1994 stay for the rest of the tournament in order to give them a sense
of what it took to achieve excellence. It immediately paid off, as Duke
went 7-5 from 1995-1999, including two appearances in the finals. The
Devils simply couldn't get past the physical, athletic squads from Clemson
and UNC. Duke got to the national finals but still couldn't win the ACC
Tournament. Then the tournament moved to Greensboro, and the magic began.
In the same building where Duke pulled off the biggest win in the history
of the program over Tennessee, the Devils parlayed a #2 seed into a
thrilling win over a much quicker UNC squad. That team was led by
all-time chucker Nikki Teasley, a player who could shoot her team out of a
game as quickly as she shot them in. The Beard-Tillis-Krapohl class
arrived to bolster those who were the foundation of that 2000 champion
(Schweitzer, Parent, Mosch, Gingrich, Matyasovsky) and won an ugly
defensive battle against NC State in 2001. Then Duke's "Elite Eight" beat
the odds of having just an eight-woman roster and nipped UNC in yet
another thrilling final, denying Teasley yet again. Last year's team
overcame an awful first half and wound up crushing the Heels down the
stretch. With wins this year over Maryland and UNC in the finals, Duke
brought their program record in the ACC tournament to 24-22...a far cry
from 2-17 and a remarkable achievement no matter how you slice it.

This game featured all sorts of history repeating itself. In the
Teasley role was one Ivory Latta, the talented young point guard whose
decision-making at this point in her career is questionable at best. Her
short stature, quickness and oft-spectacular moves have earned her a lot
of near-fawning plaudits from fans and media alike, but I see a player who
has a lot to learn about winning. There's a reason why she chose UNC over
UConn, and anyone who pays close attention to those two programs knows
that Geno Auriemma runs a very tight, disciplined ship...and anyone who
deviates from his dictates sits on the bench and/or is subject to one of
his infamous public excoriations. Sylvia Hatchell is best known as a
"roll 'em out" coach who gives her players a lot of freedom, especially
her younger, anointed stars. In her last meeting with Duke, Latta scored
a lot of points but threw up a lot of junk. I knew that given another
chance to play them, that junk wouldn't go in...and it didn't to the tune
of 3-21 from the field. Yes, Latta took more shots than Camille Little
(the ACC rookie of the year), Candace Sutton, Leah Metcalf, Nikita Bell,
Jessica Sell, Kenya McBee and Carrie Davis combined, and made 7 fewer.

In terms of how the game unfolded, it was reminiscient of that 2001
uglyfest. In that game against NC State, Alana Beard shut down Tynesha
Lewis as Duke got out to a quick early lead, but missed a ton of shots and
never got out to the blowout they wanted. Against UNC in this game, Duke
took control midway through the first half with a scoring spurt and looked
like they'd run away with. However, UNC scored the last 6 points of the
half to make it a game again. Duke took control right away in the second
half, but a 15 point lead was again cut down to eight halfway through.
The Devils responded with another run that pretty much put the game out of
reach, though another Heels run cut the lead to 12 before Duke took
control once again. It was not a pretty game, as Duke's outside attack,
so sharp in recent games, completely abandoned them (to the tune of 1-14
from three). Duke adjusted by running the ball down UNC's throats (a 10-0
advantage in fast break points) and patiently going to a power post-up
game in the halfcourt (42 points in the paint). Most of all, Duke relied
on their best weapon: suffocating, intense halfcourt defense. Against a
team like UNC that relies mostly on one-on-one athletic plays, Duke always
performs well thanks to their reliable help defense. Duke's quick, strong
and athletic starting five was more than a match for UNC's attack,
especially since they had so much trouble getting easy baskets. The
Devils held the Heels to 33% shooting and forced 19 turnovers, and that
just begins to describe how hellish it was for the Heels inside.

Duke won the game's tip but Tillis missed on a drive. The game's first
few minutes were a feeling-out process and were quite close, with a 6-6
tie at the fifteen minute mark. Duke's big three of Beard, Tillis &
Currie were 0-4 from the floor with 2 offensive fouls. Latta already
managed to miss her first 2 shots and turn the ball over once. Picking up
the slack for Duke was Mistie Bass, who surprised the Heels by putting the
floor on the deck and driving in for Duke's first points, and then posting
up for 4 more points. Another Currie miss and a Lindsey Harding turnover
led to 4 straight points from the Heels, including Latta's sole assist of
the game, to Little. After a Beard miss, Tillis took over the game at
both ends. First she blocked Latta and grabbed the board. After another
Harding turnover, Tillis played great defense, grabbed the board, and fed
Currie for a basket. Beard stole the ball, and Harding hit Tillis for a
three. Iciss then got a steal and zoomed down the court, finishing the
break with a spectacular right handed reverse layup in order to avoid
drawing a charge.

Brittany Hunter grabbed her own missed free throw and dished to Beard,
who drained a 17 footer. That gave Duke a 15-10 lead and capped off a 9-0
run, the first of many for the Devils. Latta scored 3 in a row, but
Tillis stuck back a Hunter miss to trigger another Duke run of sorts.
Both sides missed several shots, but Vicki Krapohl connected with Iciss
Tillis on a great lob play. Iciss then forced Little into another miss,
and Beard drove, getting fouled by Leah Metcalf. After fouling Beard,
Metcalf fulfilled her extracurricular requirements at UNC by aiming her
sharp elbow at Alana's throat, drawing a technical foul. One wonders if
Sylvia Hatchell has her players run drills wherein they have dummies
marked with the most vulnerable spots on the body for elbows, and if
Andrew Calder tutors his young charges in the art of the chokehold.
Regardless, Metcalf couldn't have played the role of thuggish villain any
better if she had been twirling a waxed moustache.

Messing with Duke's star and guiding light was definitely a Bad Move.
Beard made 3 of 4 foul shots and her pal Mo Currie took over. First she
took a charge from La'Tangela Atkinson, and then blocked Little. After
narrowly missing a three, Mo went baseline and converted a pretty reverse
layup. After a Little score, Mo drove through the teeth of the defense
yet again for another score. Harding stole the ball and Tillis was fouled
by Little going up, and made both. After a bunch of misses by both teams,
Tillis hit Beard inside on a cut and a 30-15 lead with under two minutes
to go. The Heels couldn't get anything going and Duke looked ready to put
them away.

UNC finally started going inside, and got rare good looks for Sutton &
Atkinson. Meanwhile, Beard missed a three and then missed a tough driving
layup. Latta crossed Beard over and nailed a 19' jumper as time expired
at the end of the first half to cut the lead to 30-21. Certain
lip-reading friends of mine reported that Latta screamed "It's our house,
bitch!" after she made the shot. Beard's teammates joked with her about
her winding up on her backside after Latta crossed her up, and Alana
simply noted that she'd get her back. She certainly would.

With UNC doing such a great job on Beard and finding ways to keep Currie
& Tillis under control late in the half, Duke needed to go back to its
other options. They started the half with Tillis blocking Little yet
again. Currie dished up a lob to Iciss, who scored and was fouled. Iciss
then hit Bass with an entry pass for a score, and then Beard dished to her
again as she posted up. Just liked that, Duke was up 36-21 three minutes
into the half. After 3 misses and 2 turnovers from the Heels, Tillis hit
Beard on a cut. The Heels cut the score to 38-25, but Krapohl found
Harding for a fast break basket to restore the lead to that magic 15 point

Over the next four minutes, Duke would miss 6 shots and commit 4
turnovers as the Heels went on a 7-0 run. Atkinson got 4 of them
attacking the glass. Latta went driving in for a layup right at Beard,
but Alana plucked the shot out of mid-air, much to the consternation of
Latta, who used her puppy-dog eyes routine in an effort to gain sympathy
from the refs. Harding then used her unbelievable quickness and body
control for a driving scoop shot that broke up the run. Tillis came up
with another big steal and drove all the way in through traffic for
another layup. The Heels panicked and reverted to taking jumpshots
instead of doing what was working, patiently attacking Duke inside and
taking advantage of their overplays. That led to 3 more fast break
baskets, as Harding & Krapohl grabbed long rebounds that Beard converted
into points. Alana finished up the 11-0 run by dishing to Bass inside for
a three point play and a 51-32 lead with seven minutes left.

Duke had the Heels on the ropes, but couldn't quite finish them off. In
fact, the Heels ran off another 7-0 run over the next 2.5 minutes. It
didn't help Duke's cause that Currie and Beard had back-to-back offensive
fouls, with Currie fouling out on hers. Then Tillis was called for
a technical foul for batting the ball after comitting a foul. The Heels
drew within 51-39 after that bit of unpleasantness, but it seemed to focus
Duke even more. Beard dished to Harding on a cut, and Lindsey showed off
more of her astounding body control by twisting her way in. The Heels and
Devils started exchanging scores at this point, which was fine by Duke.
Duke would go up 15, then the Heels would cut it to 13, then Duke would
score again. When Mistie Bass nailed a 15' jumper with two minutes to go,
it started to become very clear that the game was over.

That didn't stop Metcalf from getting in another lick on Beard. Held
scoreless in the game, Beard was walking the ball up the court when
Metcalf ran up to her and gave her a shot in the gut. The funny thing
about this was hearing Hatchell whine about how physical Duke was and how
her players parrotted that line, but it wasn't Duke's players who
were taking premeditated cheap shots. Furthermore, this is the same
Hatchell who used to cry about games being called too tightly, and how she
liked it when the refs let them play. Hatchell flip-flops like a
politician during voting season and her statements are just as believable.

Beard naturally shook it off after being doubled over in pain for a
moment, and sank both freebies. After that, it was celebration time for
the team, and well-earned. Bass and Currie were named second-team
all-tournament, while Tillis and Beard were both named to the first team.
Tillis won her second straight MVP trophy, a fitting cap to her late
season comeback after struggling since late December. Others on the
all-tourney teams included Maryland stars Delvonna Oliver and Shay Doron
(though Oliver deserved the first team status that Doron got), Wake senior
Tonia Brown, State star Kaayla Chones, and Little & Latta from UNC. The
final set a record with 11,466 fans and the tourney overall had 41,653
attendees. As the sport grows in this area, Greensboro is proving to be
the perfect host. Its centralized location and proximity to the programs
that have good fan support make it the right place at the right time.

Coach G described the game as another Senior Night of sorts, making it
all the sweeter. Everyone wanted to win the game for the seniors, and the
sheer joy evident on the faces of each team member was palpable. This
year's motto, "Pride and Passion", was greatly in effect in this
tournament. Duke would not be outworked by anyone, and in fact had more
trouble with Wake and Maryland than they did with a Carolina team that had
7 assists total. Duke met scoring slumps and difficulties head-on, coming
up with big plays from multiple players who have played in countless
pressure-packed contests. The Blue Devils simply know how to win close
games, having played in so many of them. While the team was elated with
the win, their eyes are still on their ultimate goal: the national title.
In a year where nine or ten different teams have a legitimate shot at the
national title, it won't be easy. The good news is that Duke's winning
streak, their #1 ranking and dominance over their conference, along with a
strong RPI, will likely get them the potential regional in Norfolk that
they want. We'll see how the seeding shakes out in a few days, but the
Blue Devils have to be proud of their efforts. The seniors finish with a
72-4 mark in the ACC over the last four years, including 61 of the last
62. The seniors went 12-0 against UNC (Iciss had a delicious quote about
how the players followed the gameplan against the Heels, and they won
every time), who will likely be a three seed somewhere. Duke will be back
within the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium in a couple of
weeks as they begin the final leg of the season, and will continue to
polish this gem of a team to perfection in practice.

** Negatives:

1. Fouls. The game was called a bit weirdly, to say the least. Duke was
whistled for 4 offensive fouls, a couple of which were questionable at
best. But after a first half where Duke very carefully parcelled out
their fouls, the Devils got a bit sloppy in the second. Tillis fouled out
thanks to picking up a technical after committing her second foul, while
Currie committed an offensive foul for her fifth in a situation where she
should have been a lot more careful. At the other end, one of the few
ways UNC was able to score was by getting to the foul line. To a certain
degree, it's the price Duke pays for playing a physical style, but this
means that the players simply have to be smarter about how and when to be

2. Shooting. Thankfully, Duke found other ways to score, because the
perimeter shooting was just putrid. They weren't necessarily bad shots,
but moving in for a couple of them, even if just a couple of feet, might
have made a difference.

** Positives:

1. Defense. There have been times this season when the defense was a bit
casual, allowing too many offensive rebounds or transition points. This
was not one of those times, as this team had a laser focus on the
challenge that UNC presented. Duke homed in on UNC's two biggest guns
(Little & Latta) and utterly dominated both freshmen.

2. Transition play. Duke's biggest offensive weapon was in full effect,
as the Heels' many bad long jumpers led to long rebounds and fast break
opportunities. In a game where scores came at a premium, the chance to
get some easy points boosted Duke's confidence and deflated UNC's.

3. Post play. This was another big factor, as Duke's ability to get
openings against tougher defenses like Maryland's meant that they were
able to get plenty of good looks inside. Duke used great entry passes and
the lob on occasion as well to get plenty of looks for Bass inside.


** Bass: Mistie dominated the Heels in Durham but didn't play quite as
well in Chapel Hill. She quickly established herself as a force down
low, but didn't just hit open looks. Her drive to the basket caught
everyone by surprise (including me), while her late-game jumper was truly
a dagger. The taller Candace Sutton was able to score on her a few times
and get some rebounds, but had trouble stopping Mistie on the block. Bass
did outscore her and blocked a couple of shots, pretty much establishing a
stand-off. Of course, Sutton was one of the few options that worked for
the Heels, so they needed a lot more than that.

** Tillis: A glorious game for Iciss, who showed off the full range of
her capabilities. She nailed a three, played sensational defense, ran the
court, finished in transition, hit the boards, finished lobs, blocked
shots, dished to her teammates and looked good doing it. Holding Little
to 7 points and 6 rebounds was one of the biggest keys of the game. This
is a player who has dominated other teams, but Iciss has handled her
three times. The Human Matchup Problem stuffed the stat sheet with 17
points, 9 boards, 5 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals. Iciss' newfound
determination and focus on the court has come at just the right time for
her team, and she richly deserved that MVP trophy.

** Currie: Monique only played 21 minutes, but other than getting into
foul trouble, she played extremely well. Her mission was to attack the
rim early and often, and her two drives late in the first half were
crucial in pushing Duke to a big lead. Mo also took 2 charges, had 2
steals and a dish to Bass. Her offensive fouls really wound up hurting
her, and she also took an ill-advised attempt on Sutton that got swatted
back. Still, I loved her aggressive attitude and I think if she keeps it
up it'll pay off down the stretch.

** Beard: This was not Alana's best game, with a 5-18 mark from the floor
and 4 turnovers. Still, she had 15 points and 4 assists, and the play of
the night: that awesome cuff block on Latta. That precipitated a
heretofore unprecedented event: Latta actually shutting her yap for a
minute due to being stunned. Alana may have struggled with her shooting,
but she absolutely tortured Latta at the defensive end, forcing that 3-21
night. While ACC tourney MVP is one of the few honors that escaped Alana
during her career, it should be noted that she is the first player to ever
be named first team all-tourney four years straight.

** Harding: After some early problems with turnovers and missed shots,
Lindsey kept coming and hit the two biggest shots of the game for Duke:
the scoop shot to end a 7-0 run and the cut that ended another 7-0 run.
She matched Latta step-for-step throughout the game, and her greater
height and strength neutralized her. Lindsey always seems to make one or
two clutch plays a game, and I'm always delighted when she helps the team
win because her high school team didn't win that much.

** Foley: Jess was in just briefly, snagging an offensive board. She's
another player who will need to step up a bit in the NCAA's.

** Krapohl: The senior didn't get many good looks at the basket (the
Heels learned their lesson against her), but did hustle for some rebounds
and played very good defense. One play that stands out came when Latta
went at her one-on-one in transition. In the game in Durham, Vicki did a
poor job in a similar situation of stopping the ball, and Latta scored
easily. Here, Vicki stayed with her and kept her arms up, bothering Latta
just enough to cause her to miss. Vicki had a couple of great passes,
including that lob to Tillis, a transition hoop to Harding, and starting
another break with a rebound and passing to Beard for the finish. Not a
flashy game, but she got the job done and helped in ways that didn't show
up on the boxscore.

** Hunter: Big Brit missed both of her shots and was thinking a bit too
much on her free throws, but she is a rebounding machine, grabbing 5 in
just 14 minutes. In general, she was trying a little too hard out there,
and simply needs to relax and let the game come to her. Her defense was
just fine, and she did a nice job of owning the paint and not letting the
UNC players push people around. If Leah Metcalf ever tries her elbowing
shtick on Brittany, she's in for a big surprise.

** Bales: Ali got a minute of playing time and snuck in to stick back a
missed Bass free throw. The way the bench exploded when she scored just
shows how tight this team is, despite the disparate personalities and
backgrounds. I think Ali will be a very important player in Duke's early
NCAA games and will be needed to provide some good minutes in order to
keep the other posts fresh.

** Howe & Marsh: Coach G was able to sneak these two into the game in the
last minute. I was especially happy to see Kalita out there, a player who
worked so hard just to get to wear a uniform. Standing on the court as
her team was clinching a championship must have been a wonderful feeling
for her.