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Duke Dominates LSU, Will Face Terps For National Title

Duke 64, LSU 45. April 2, 2006. TD Banknorth Garden.

After a grueling win over UConn, Duke used a superbly-executed gameplan and
its matchup advantages for a commanding win over Louisiana State. As a result,
the Devils will return to the national finals for the first time since 1999.
This was a sweet win in so many ways for the Devils. The Lady Tigers had
eliminated Duke from the NCAA tournament twice, in 2000 and last season. The
2005 Devils overachieved to win 30 games given their thin roster and series of
injuries, and LSU was simply a better team. Still, Duke had an early lead in
that game, but senior point guard Temeka Johnson hit some key shots to bring
the Tigers back. Meanwhile, Mo Currie (who had carried the team all year), had
a nightmare game against the Tigers, shooting 4-18 with 5 turnovers. Seimone
Augustus dominated her with 24 points and 7 rebounds. This may have played a
role in Mo's decision to return to Duke for a final season, and the fates
decreed that she'd have another shot at Seimone.

Of course, the two teams were rather different in 2006. Without Johnson and
veterans like Tillie Willis & Wendlyn Jones, the Tigers were almost completely
dependent on Augustus and the overwhelming inside power of 6-5 Sylvia Fowles.
That duo rose to the occasion: Augustus led the country in scoring and Fowles
was a double-double machine. They won the SEC regular season but narrowly lost
to Tennessee in the tournament finals, but were still a formidable outfit. That
said, they had a freshman point guard and only one reliable three point shooter
in Scholanda Hoston. Hoston is also the team's defensive specialist, and the
player who single-handedly frustrated Currie a year ago. Meanwhile, Duke not
only added Lindsey Harding and Abby Waner, they also had a healthy Jess Foley.
More importantly, they had a greatly improved Chante Black and Alison Bales,
both of whom were non-factors in last year's game but were turning it on during
the NCAA tournament.

One thing was for sure: Coach G wasn't going to let LSU beat them the same way
twice. She wasn't going to let Augustus and Fowles dominate; if it meant giving
up open shots to the other Tigers, so be it. Of course, she was going to throw
a few wrinkles in the game plan. Rather than use a regular zone, Duke played a
sort of sagging man-to-man. Mistie Williams started off guarding Fowles, but
Bales would double her whenever she got the ball. Smith drew Augustus and did
a fabulous job on her, thanks to her size and strength. But she had plenty of
help from Harding, who would descend on Augustus whenever she tried to drive,
not to mention Abby Waner and Jess Foley. With LSU's two stars surrounded and
Bales patrolling the lane to prevent anyone from attacking the basket, the
Tigers were left taking 17' jumpers they had no real interest in attempting.

Offensively, Duke was certainly no longer just the Mo Currie show. She still
commanded plenty of respect, and Hoston was glued to her throughout the game.
Mo didn't get a good look at the basket for quite a long time. Fortunately,
the offensive improvement of Bales and Black, combined with the surging
confidence of Waner, made Duke a difficult squad to defend. In terms of
matchups, Bales' improvement meant that Fowles had to really guard her. That
left Mistie Williams some nice opportunities, given LSU's lack of size other
than Fowles. White's youth was also something that Duke was looking to
exploit, and so Harding had to be ready to attack.

LSU likes to run. Duke certainly does as well, but Coach G knew that in a
track meet, Duke would be at a disadvantage. So she slowed things down and
called for at least 5 passes per possession in order to make LSU work on
defense. She hoped to also force her team to be patient and prevent quick
shots that might have allowed LSU to get out in transition early on--especially
long rebounds from missed threes.

Bales demonstrated early on that the Tigers couldn't easily drive in for
scores, blocking LSU's first 2 shots. LSU missed its first 5 shots before
Harding drove in for a three point play. After a Fowles layup, the Devils
strangled the Tigers with a 15-2 run over a nine minute stretch. LSU's defense
was incredibly tough, covering so much ground that Duke couldn't penetrate and
was wary of trying to pass inside. Finally, Smith cracked it with a drive and
angle pass to Williams for a score. Harding hit a 15' jumper and Smith started
another fast break, passing it to Bales. Ali held her ground and waited for
Fowles to fly by her before she finished. Waner attacked and got fouled,
nailing both freebies. Bales then posted up and scored. Waner blocked a shot
and Harding found her for a three on the other side. Black finished off the
run with a stickback. During Duke's run, the Tigers missed 8 shots and had 7
turnovers. Even when Augustus was getting the ball, she was either turning it
over or getting it blocked by Bales.

Flo Williams came off the bench for the Tigers, and she finally managed to
sink a few shots. Fowles and Hoston got to the line and Sylvia also stuck back
a miss. With under five minutes to go in the half, the Tigers pulled within
18-13. Duke survived its second shot-clock violation of the half, held on
defense, and finally broke their drought with a Williams stickback. Williams
then got another crack at the basket and missed, but Waner zoomed in to grab
the offensive board and get the foul. With just a minute left in the half,
Duke got a little lucky when the ball slipped out of Harding's hands and
bounced to Black for a score. Bales then simply reached up for a steal and
Harding got fouled on a drive and hit a free throw. Ali then blocked yet
another drive and threw the outlet to Currie, who scored her first points of
the game just before the half ended.

LSU shot just 24% in the first half and turned the ball over 10 times. The
Devils held an 11 point lead by shooting a bit better (42%), keeping things
even on the boards and getting aggressive play from its guards. Harding and
Waner combined for 12 of Duke's 25 first half points.

Against UConn, Duke blew a first half lead early in the second half. Mistie
Williams made sure that this wouldn't happen again. She threw up a long left
handed hook that would have made George Mikan proud, sank a turnaround jumper
over Fowles, and finished a high-low on a pass from Bales to put Duke up 32-18.
Currie tossed a lob into Bales, who finished with her left hand to avoid Fowles
blocking the shot. When Bales set a screen and handed off the ball to Harding
for a drive, that kept Duke's margin at 14, 36-22.

The Tigers had a run in them, with Augustus leading the way. She drove and
hit a floater and also sank a rare three. With twelve minutes left, the Tigers
pulled within 37-31. Duke's big early margin saved things from going completely
south, but visions of falling behind like in the UConn game were starting to
arise. Harding calmed things down with a drive, and then came what was in many
respects the deciding sequence. Flo Williams got stripped by Currie. She fed
the ball into Mistie, who missed a tough shot. Black got the rebound but
missed the stickback. However, Mistie went up and through sheer effort,
managed to tip the ball back up and in. That made it 41-31 with around ten
minutes left, and LSU never seriously threatened again.

Foley drove in for a score, Williams fed Currie on a cut, and Harding found
Williams in transition. Bales ended the run by hitting Currie on another cut.
All of a sudden, Mo was getting easy looks, thanks to Duke's productive front
line. Duke never did quite blow the game open, as Augustus went down fighting.
A Waner three gave Duke a bit more room. LSU pulled within 54-41 with over
four minutes left, but that's all that was left in their tank. Currie scored 6
late points to keep things from getting interesting for the Tigers, and Duke was
on their way to the title game. In the second half, it was Williams and Currie
who carried the offense for Duke. They scored 21 points on 10-13 shooting.
Bales missed some good shots, but was active enough to open up passing lanes
for 3 assists. The Devils shot 57% in the half against one of the best
defensive units in the country. While LSU had 14 offensive rebounds, they only
managed to score 11 second-chance points. Meanwhile, Duke had 7 o-boards and 9
second-chance points. They made the most of their opportunities. LSU took
care of the ball in the second half, but Duke did the same. With turnovers and
rebounds roughly the same, Duke's great efficiency is what led to their win,
along with slowing LSU's offense down to a crawl.

While this game was not exactly a thing of beauty, Duke's overall intensity
and balance (4 players in double figures) allowed them to seize control and
dicate tempo throughout. In the offseason, Gail was devoted to creating a
potent inside attack for the Devils, after a summer of coaching Courtney Paris
and Crystal Langhorne. While that attack took a long time to get going and was
inconsistent, it's finally paid off for Duke. Duke crushed LSU in points in the
paint, 42-16 and only took 3 threes. As long as Duke's posts stay aggressive
and finish with contact, they stand a great chance in the national title game.


** Bales: Ali missed several shots, and most of them were jumpers. However,
none of those misses were bad shots. These were shots that she was draining in
earlier games. The great thing was that she kept shooting and stayed
aggressive. On one possession, she put the ball on the deck and went right at
an astonished Fowles, drawing a foul. With just enough offense to make LSU
take her seriously, Ali was able to draw the defense and dish to open
teammates. It's amazing how simply being aggressive on offense has opened up
the other parts of her game. Defensively, she controlled the game like a
linebacker, keeping Fowles to single figures and intimidating anyone who came
inside. And she did it while picking up just 1 foul. Ali will need to bring a
similar effort against the tandem of Langhorne and Harper.

** Williams: Coach G noted that she didn't think Duke pressed its size
advantage enough in the first half, especially on the offensive end. Mistie
took this to heart and not only pushed Duke way ahead in the second half, she
nailed two shots that put the game away. Her defense on Fowles was excellent,
though Sylvia did crash through for 13 rebounds. But by forcing Fowles to rely
on her skills rather than brute power and size, the Devils were able to make her
think twice about what she was doing. That led to rushed shots and turnovers.
One almost sensed that Fowles underestimated Duke's bigs, but they were
certainly ready for her.

** Currie: Mo tried not to force things in the first half, but she did miss her
first 3 shots and simply wasn't an offensive factor. Coach G took the
opportunity to rest her and get her primed for the second half. She scored 10
points in the last 8 minutes, most of them created by her teammates. Both LSU
and UConn didn't want Currie running wild on them, and they crafted their
defenses around her. Duke anticipated this and simply waited for the right
time to have Mo assert herself. With LSU worn down, Currie did anything she
wanted. While she's had solid numbers in the tournament, she's yet to have a
true star turn. Against Maryland, a team that might well play her one-on-one,
Mo has a chance to go out with a bang. The key is not to put pressure on
herself--just read what's going on in the game, look to attack and stay loose.
There will be opportunities against the Terps; all she has to do is take
advantage of them.

** Smith: Without taking a single shot, Nish played an excellent game. She had
2 early assists to help Duke get going, and was the primary agent of Augustus'
shutout in the first half. Nish also spotted Waner open for a back-breaking
three. Smith also came up with a key steal in the second half (after a Bales
deflection) that led to a fast break basket. Hers was certainly a game that
didn't show up in the boxscore, but she was fully engaged and a key cog in
Duke's win.

** Harding: Lindsey went after Erica White and scored on 3 drives and a
jumpshot. All four field goals were significant, especially her 2 run-stopping
drives in the second half. She made White irrelevant and was able to cheat on
Augustus. Offensively, Lindsey helped fuel Duke's limited transition
opportunities and made sure to get Williams touches. While she didn't shoot
that well (4-11), she took advantage of good looks. Lindsey also rebounded
strongly. She'll need a superb defensive effort to slow down Maryland's

** A.Waner: What I liked about Abby in this game was not just that she stretched
the defense with her shooting, but also made several outstanding defensive
plays. The most impressive was a block on White, where Abby grabbed the
rebound and then hit a three on the other end. She also hit a three off an
inbounds set that put Duke up 16 with five minutes left. Waner played rather
effective help defense, forcing a turnover on Augustus when she collapsed on
her. The one negative for the hustling Waner was her carelessness with the
ball. After one turnover, she compounded the error by immediately fouling.
Fortunately, Duke didn't give up any points as a result of the turnovers. To a
certain degree, it's all a part of the ride with Waner. You get the occasional
no-look pass to nobody in particular in exchange for constant hustle,
creativity and aggressiveness. Waner was by far the most aggressive player off
the dribble for Duke, and she was smart to exploit the opportunities that LSU
was giving her.

** Black: Chante continued her trend of providing hustle and energy, along with
playing great defense. She stuck back her own miss and later scored on a
post-up on a broken play. In the second half, she finished a high-low pass
from Bales and hit a key free throw. Black's energy helped wear down Fowles
and put pressure on LSU's defense. When teamed with Bales, LSU could simply do
nothing inside.

** Foley: Jess was a bit overmatched at times by LSU's speed and gave up a three
to Augustus when she had her hands down. However, the one basket she had (the
drive off a screen) came as Duke pushed their lead to 18 in the second half.
She also helped keep Waner & Smith fresh and out of foul trouble.