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Three Great Careers End Too Soon

Minnesota 82, Duke 75. March 30, 2004. Constant Convocation Center.

It's never easy to write the last game report of the year when the
outcome is such a negative one, and that task was made exponentially more
difficult with the last games of Alana Beard, Vicki Krapohl and Iciss
Tillis. What makes it even worse is that none of three had what one would
call their best games. Tillis was 1-5 in the first half with 2 fouls;
Beard 2-7 and Krapohl 0-1--that's 3-13 from the senior class that has led
the team to so many victories. In the first half, the team couldn't stop
the Gophers' efficient offense and even when they turned them over, they
couldn't convert the miscues into points. In the second half, Duke played
at an extremely high level offensively (61% from the floor), but couldn't
keep the Gophers off the foul line or turn them over. In truth, even
Duke's best effort might not have been enough against a Minnesota club
that had an answer to everything Duke threw at them.

Duke actually had an early 5-2 lead, thanks to Mistie Bass posting up
twice, with one of them a three point play against Minnesota's massive
Janel "Shaq" McCarville. Overall, Duke missed 13 of its first 15 shots
and turned the ball over 3 times. Despite that, Duke only trailed 14-7
with nine minutes gone by. After that began a game-long series of runs
wherein Duke would draw tantalizing close to the lead, only to see the
Gophers hit big shots and take control of the game again for awhile. Bass
broke the long field goal drought by posting up McCarville again and then
driving by her for a score. Beard finally shook off her terrible start
with a free throw and a post-up to draw Duke within 16-14 with nine
minutes to go in the half. But Beard missed a layup after gettting a
steal, and Gopher star Lindsay Whalen popped a three to shift the game's
momentum Minnesota's way. Bass missed twice inside and Whalen found 2
different teammates for scores to put Minnesota up 23-14. Beard got a
steal and hit Monique Currie on a break (for her first points of the game)
but McCarville got the ball and scored on a three point play to give
Minnesota a 10 point lead with under six to play.

Duke kept the game at status quote with some free throws and a beautiful
pass from Lindsey Harding to Tillis on a cut. Still, a three from
Minnesota (from McCarville, an accomplished passer, to guard Shannon
Schonrock) made it 31-21. Bass hit some free throws and Harding took a
charge from Whalen. Duke took advantage when Currie found Beard on a lob
to make it 31-25. The Gophers were shaky down the stretch, getting just 2
free throws in the last three minutes of the half. Duke couldn't take
advantage, with Currie missing a layup after a Beard steal, Bass missing
the front end of a one-and-one, Beard missing a jumper and Currie only
hitting 1 of 2 from the line at the end of the half. The Devils had a
real chance to tie the game up and didn't get it done. Only 12 Minnesota
turnovers kept them in the game after shooting 8-29 from the field in the
first half.

The second half was defined by three furious runs by Duke and poised
answers from Minnesota each time. Iciss Tillis was determined to fight
back hard and opened the half with a pretty 12' fadeaway. Whalen
countered with a drive but Beard went in with a finger roll to pull Duke
to within 35-30. A 7-2 Minnesota run capped by a steal from Whalen that
led to a three made it 42-32 three minutes into the half. Whalen was
outplaying Beard, making the plays that Alana usually makes for Duke.
That's when Tillis really caught fire. She hit 2 freebies, drove in for a
score plus the foul and later hit a tough 15' from the baseline. Though
she missed the free throw, Duke got hte rebound and Brittany Hunter sank a
soft jumper from the baseline. Thanks to Iciss, Duke had pulled to within

The score was close for the next few minutes as Duke scored on a couple
of Harding free throws and a Hunter stickback, but fell behind 50-44.
Harding drove and kicked it out to Hunter, who rattled home another long
jumper. Currie then rose up and accepted the challenge of carrying her
team, grabbing a rebound over McCarville and then driving it for a three
point play, drawing McCarville's 4th foul. That pulled Duke to within
50-49 with under 12 to go. To their immense credit, the Gophers steped up
with a 7-0 run that left them firmly in control at 57-49 with about ten
minutes left. Duke started to play with a real sense of urgency as Currie
went 5-6 from the foul line and Beard hit Vicki Krapohl for a three. When
Alana grabbed a board and dished it to Currie in transition, that knotted
the game up at 59 with five minutes to go.

The Gophers found the hole in Duke's zone and nailed a three from the
corner. Duke stayed close with 2 more Currie free throws and a Beard
jumper. With under three minutes to go, Currie missed the front end of a
one-and-one with Duke down 67-63. Whalen drove and scored, making things
desperate for Duke. A Beard free throw and a Currie jumper cut the lead
to 69-66, and when Harding scored on a runner with a minute left, Duke had
narrowed the lead to 70-68. But Duke failed to stop the ball and Whalen
drove in for a hoop instead of the Gophers holding the ball out. Beard
missed on a three and McCarville hit a free throw, but Tillis scored on a
drive to make it 73-70 with 37 seconds to go. Whalen hit 2 freebies,
followed by McCarville after Beard misfired on another trey. A long
jumper from Harding and a three by Foley made it 79-75 with 14 seconds
left, but it was too little, too late as the Gophers made their foul shots
down the stretch.

Whalen and McCarville were both awesome, of course. Whalen had 27
points and was MVP of the region; she also had 6 boards, 4 assists and 4
steals. McCarville deserved the award more with 20 points, 18 rebounds, 6
assists and 2 steals. Great as they were, they weren't the reason why the
Gophers won. That would be guard Shannon Bolden playing great defense on
Beard and nailing all 3 of her threes and utility forward Kadidja
Andersson's superb 17 point, 5 rebound & 3 assist performance. It was
Minnesota's role players stepping up at crucial times that kept Duke from
getting the lead back. Duke did not go quietly and pushed the Gophers to
the limit, but Minnesota forced the Devils to play too much one-one-one,
cutting off Duke's powerful passing game. By making each shot a difficult
one for Duke, it forced the Devils to be perfect in order to win. The
main story of the game was that Duke could not get any rebounds against
McCarville. She was too big, too wide and too smart. She and Whalen fed
off each other perfectly, executing gorgeous give-and-gos that the Duke
defense was one step too slow in stopping.

I've written a lot about the seniors and will write much more in my
season-in-review article that I'll submit in a few weeks. Suffice it to
say that as a class, there has never been one loved by more people at Duke
than this one. And as much as that's about their talent, it's due even
more to who they are as people. You have to see them in person, talking
to their fans after games, to truly understand. Seeing teenagers in #20
jerseys, seeing Iciss mobbed by swarms of fans, seeing Vicki's enthusiasm
spill over on and off the court are things that won't soon be forgotten.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about them is that they were good
teammates. After beginning their careers on a team that had a lot of
acrimony and infighting, they made sure to welcome in younger teammates
and make them part of the family right away. Duke had a fine program
before they arrived, winning regular season titles and playing for the
national title. But this group took the program to the next level, and
hopefully their presence will inspire Duke to hit the ultimate level.
The seniors simply need to look up to the rafters in Cameron to understand
how much of an impact they've made and how much they won. 124-14 over
four years will speak volumes forever as to how good they were.

I'd like to address three issues percolating on various boards,
including DBR's. The first is that this season is somehow a failure
because the team didn't win it all. It is quite true that this team did
not realize their goal, which was the national title. No one feels more
disappointed about this than the seniors, who have strived for this goal
since the start of their storied careers. However, it should be noted
that there is large difference between "not reaching all of your goals"
and "failure". Duke won their fourth straight ACC regular season title,
fifth straight ACC tournament, beat UConn in Hartford, beat Purdue by 30
won 30 games for the fourth straight year and made it to the Elite Eight.
These are not the achievements of "failures", and those who categorize
their season as such are the worst kind of fans. The kind of spoiled
fans who feel entitled to winning every single game and can't enjoy a
season unless their team wins the championship...anything less and the
entire campaign is considered a failure. I have long feared Duke gaining
this sort of fan so common among devotees of Kentucky and UNC, because
they have no understanding of what this experience is all about. Simply
put, it's not the destination, it's the trip. How one gets to one's
destination is as important as the destination itself, and this Duke
squad did it for four years with passion and constantly strived for
excellence. They took an emerging program that had already reached some
important milestones and took it to the next level. Frankly, if a fan
can't enjoy what this team accomplished this year, I can feel nothing but
pity for them.

Secondly, there is the notion that Coach G can't win the "big" game,
with "big" apparently defined as "whatever the last loss of the season
is". In other words, winning five straight ACC tournaments is meaningless
because those title games apparently weren't "big" enough. Winning
regional finals in 1999, 2002 and 2003 don't count because those weren't
"big" either. Winning in sold-out arenas in Chapel Hill and Hartford
don't count "big" could those games be? Here's a history
assignment for you...go look up how old John Wooden was before he won his
first national title. Then go find out how many Final Fours Coach K made
before he won his first. If one levels the criticism that Duke sometimes
loses games where the team is tight, so be it, but don't be lazy and
ignore the many, many big games that Duke does win.

Third, there's talk that "if Duke couldn't win it this year, they'll
never win it". Well, Duke might not ever win the national title. Plenty
of outstanding coaches have come close but never won the whole thing (Andy
Landers, for one). Plenty of great coaches have never even made it to the
Final Four (Sue Gunter, until this year). But what Coach G has long
talked about is building a program, not a team. Many expected Duke to
fade into obscurity when the 1999 lost the national title and graduated
six seniors. Instead, the holdovers came back strong and won their first
ACC tournament, and did it even when their best player was injured halfway
through the season. There are plenty of young players on this squad who
have patiently waited their turn, and there are some excellent recruits
who will join the team. More great players will join the program down the
road. Here's another history question for you: in men's basketball, what
happened to Virginia the year after Ralph Sampson left after not making
the Final Four three straight years? What happened to the Duke men in
2000 after losing three players to the lottery? Beard was the greatest
player in the history of the program and Tillis is in the top five, but
great players will continue to come to the program BECAUSE of their
presence here. The impact that they've had on the program isn't over; in
fact, it's just begun.

** Negatives:

1. Finishing. This really hurt Duke in the first half, as Beard and
Currie missed several easy opportunities at the hoop. Tillis and Hunter
also couldn't finish stickbacks. This made Duke play even tighter as a
result until they went on their second half run.

2. Offensive rebounding. No factor was more important than this one. The
presence of McCarville meant that Duke only had 5 offensive rebounds for
the game. For a team that was struggling and needed as many extra cracks
at the basket as possible, being denied that chance killed them.

3. Stopping the passing game. Minnesota had assists on 15 of 26 field
goals, with Whalen & McCarville seemingly finding each other via radar.
Duke did a poor job of flooding the passing lanes to disrupt them.

** Positives:

1. Getting to the foul line. Duke got the benefit of some friendly calls
to get some crucial points. Unfortunately, Duke could only hit 74% of
their shots, missing a couple of crucial one-and-ones. Still, if not for
the foul line, this game would have been a blowout.

2. Bench play. Foley and Hunter in particular gave the team a lift, and
along with Krapohl they outscored Minnesota's bench 14-2. Brittany in
particular hit some big-time shots and grabbed several boards.

3. Never saying die. Duke had every chance to give up and let the Gophers
run away with the game, but even when they were missing shots or turning
the ball over, the Devils would regroup and make a run. Interestingly, it
was the underclassmen who led the charge, desperate to win the game for
the seniors.


** Bass: Mistie carried the team in the early going, scoring Duke's first
5 points and 11 of the team's 26 in the first half. Minnesota adjusted
well and shut her down completely in the second half, as she didn't take a
single shot. It wasn't that McCarville dominated her offensively, but
rather that Mistie was continually blocked out by Shaq--she only had 1
rebound for the game. Bass did play solid defense, getting 3 blocks and
making McCarville work for her baskets.

** Tillis: After going 1-5 in the first half (though with 4 rebounds),
Iciss stepped up in the early going of the second, scoring 8 points in the
first five minutes of the half. Unfortunately, foul trouble slowed her
down as she eventually fouled out of her last college game. Iciss had 4
rebounds early on but was also kept off the boards as the game progressed,
which really hurt Duke. She also had a bunch of turnovers in the second
half, though none that led to Minnesota points. The most frustrating came
on a break, when Harding passed her the ball at the wrong angle and Iciss
bobbled the ball out of bounds. That was the game in microcosm for Duke:
an opportunity to score that just didn't quite come together. Still,
Iciss left no bullets left in her gun, hitting some amazing shots in the
second half after that slow start.

** Currie: Mo was another player who had a hideous first half (1-6 from
the floor and 2 turnovers) but who carried the team on her back with 16
points and 5 rebounds in the second. Her three point play where she drew
McCarville's fourth foul was huge, as was her layup that tied the game at
59. Mo unfortunately missed the front end of a one-and-one with under
three minutes to go and Duke down by 4; that wound up being a big factor
down the stretch. Of course, she was otherwise 9-11 from the foul line,
and those points kept Duke in the game in the second half. With Bolden
focused on Beard, Mo took advantage of her defensive matchup and attacked
again and again. For her efforts, she made the all-tournament team. If
she could have clicked a bit earlier, it might have been a different game.

** Beard: It was painful to watch a player as good as Beard go out
struggling so mightily from the floor. Truthfully, Alana hasn't been able
to buy a perimeter bucket in the NCAA tournament. Even worse than that
was Beard missing 3 easy layups in the first half. The real problem in
this game was Beard not being able to slow down Whalen enough. Yes,
Whalen only shot 9-21 from the floor with 4 turnovers, but she found other
ways to score against Alana, not to mention passing for 4 assists. That
had to disappoint Alana more than anything; even when she hasn't shot well
from the floor in the past, she'd always make up for it with a big
rebounding game, a sterling defensive effort, or a passing exhibtion.
While she did have 4 steals and 6 boards, it just wasn't enough for Duke,
though she did make the all-tournament team.

** Harding: Lindsey missed some easy layups early on but kept fighting
down the stretch, hitting a tough jumper in the lane and pulling up for
another big shot. As she has all year, she played tough defense
(harrassing Schonock into 2-6 shooting and 5 turnovers), got 5 boards and
5 assists along with 3 steals, took a charge from Whalen and hitting those
big shots down the stretch. Lindsey did pretty much all that she could

** Krapohl: Vicki hit one three, but this game was a lot like Marquette
where she was reluctant to pull the trigger unless she was wide open. In
a game where Duke needed to fire all of its bullets, the team was hurt a
bit by her hesitating. Even if she missed, she had to stretch the defense
out. Minnesota took the tact with her that all smart teams did: be
physical and smother her. Don't leave her open to cheat to other
offensive players, because she'll burn you.

** Hunter: Brit displayed her strengths and weaknesses as a player in
micrososm here: she's a tremendous natural scorer and rebounder with nice
touch on her short jumper, but can get lost on defense, especially against
a team that screens and passes well. She hit some key and difficult
baskets but also gave up a few. In Brittany's case, defense will be a
matter of both desire and understanding. Compare her to Iciss
Tillis--Icebox was frequently lost on defense as a frosh, getting roasted
by players like Candace Sutton. Fast forward to three years later, and
Tillis is one of the best post defenders in the country, capable of
defending and rebounding with anyone. Hopefully a summer of rest and
rehabilitation for her knee will do wonders for her, and she'll be ready
to go to work in the fall.

** Foley: Jess hit a three from what Steve Barnes described as "the magic
spot" from the right wing, but while that was a clutch shot, Duke needed
more from her earlier on. Still, Jess absolutely made the most of her
playing time with that three and a couple of free throws. Jess will need
to be a step-up player next year; she has the talent to do this, but just
needs the confidence and focus to do so.