Duke could have used more Currie down stretch

Updated: January 30, 2006, 12:42 AM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

North Carolina's win Sunday was a tail of two halves. The first belonged to Duke. But the second -- and ultimately the No. 1 ranking -- belonged to North Carolina.

Ivory Latta
AP Photo/Gerry Broome Ivory Latta has helped UNC reach its first Final Four since winning it all in 1994.

Duke's 10 second-half turnovers, North Carolina's ability to convert them, and the Blue Devils' faulty free-throw shooting were huge factors in the game. The Tar Heels' Erlana Larkins (23 points) also is the easy pick for the game's MVP.

But that's where the big question arises: Where was Monique Currie in the final 10 minutes, 58 seconds of the game, when UNC erased a 12-point deficit to beat the top-ranked Blue Devils 74-70, at Cameron Indoor Stadium?

I don't want to take anything away from North Carolina, which played a stellar second half and deserved the victory. But I would have liked to see what might have happened if Duke's All-American -- who last season was largely regarded as the runner-up behind Seimone Augustus as the national player of the year -- had gotten more touches during that pivotal stretch.

You've got to get your star, your go-to player more involved. Currie -- who scored 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting and added 13 rebounds -- might have disappeared a bit on her own, or North Carolina's defense might have limited her touches. In the final 10:58, she had only two rebounds and scored just five points and attempted just six shots -- including two desperation 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds. Currie, who played 34 minutes and was 2-for-4 at the foul line, just didn't get the basketball enough in the flow of the offense.

After a perfect first half from Duke -- the Blue Devils controlled the boards, even holding a plus-15 rebounding advantage at one point, to force North Carolina to play half-court basketball -- the Tar Heels trailed 40-27 at the break. But the second half story was completely the opposite. The No. 2 Tar Heels returned to their specialty, getting up and down the floor and ultimately rebounding and running their way past Duke. The Tar Heels put Duke's 10 second-half turnovers to good use, outscoring the Blue Devils 16-0 in points off turnovers. Also, Duke went just 7-for-15 from the foul line in the second. Granted, that includes Mistie Williams' intentional miss in the waning seconds, but no one will win at this level without hitting free throws and capitalizing on opportunities.

Duke's 3-point shooting also hurt. The Blue Devils are the second-best 3-point shooting team in the nation, and average 7.2 made treys per game. Duke was just 3-for-12, Sunday, however, and North Carolina's defense helped account for the woeful 25 percent accuracy. The Tar Heels are very lanky and have exceptional close-out speed, meaning Duke's 3-point looks were likely more heavily contested than usual.

Larkins was phenomenal. The 6-foot-1 forward has the skills of a point guard, yet also is a fantastic rebounder. She's relentless, plays hard on both ends and has amazing confidence for a sophomore. Her two huge 3-pointers to open the second half were quite a statement considering she had drawn her third personal foul right as the first half ended.

As expected, both point guards -- Duke's Lindsey Harding and UNC's Ivory Latta -- played great games and put on a show at times. North Carolina also had great poise down the stretch, and got some big baskets and quality minutes from role players such as Alex Miller and LaToya Pringle off the bench. It was a great game, one of the sport's best in awhile, in front of great fans and at least three WNBA coaches/scouts.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

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