- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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Shortly after the Final Four wrapped up last April, Monique Currie stood at a podium and announced a decision she had been deliberating on for most of the season: Duke's All-American would return for her final year, rather than jump to the WNBA.
While playing professionally is one of Currie's ultimate goals, so is winning a national title. And, as Currie said at the time, she wanted to play another season with point guard Lindsey Harding.
Good call. The Blue Devils might have more depth than ever, but much of their success this season directly relates to how well Currie and Harding are playing. And more than halfway through this season, Duke's duo has established itself as the best perimeter in the nation.
Their peers at Georgia, Rutgers, UCLA and Maryland could make similar arguments, but Currie and Harding separate themselves because they're equally dominating both offensively and defensively. They are both good decision makers with low turnovers (Harding boasts a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio). They are dynamic, experienced and almost always play very much under control.
Some might argue that Currie's numbers don't stack up against another national player of the year candidate, Rutgers' Cappie Pondexter. But while Pondexter is having a fantastic season, ranking second in the country with 22.1 points per game, keep in mind that she's also averaging 10 minutes more per game than Currie and is one of just two Scarlet Knights averaging double-digit scoring.
That's not to say one is better than the other -- there will be time for that debate later this season -- but it's only fair to point out that Currie's numbers -- 14.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game -- might be better if she weren't averaging a career-low 26.2 minutes. If you were to project her stats over 38 or 40 minutes, they would blow you away. Instead, Duke's incredible depth has eight players averaging at least 15 minutes, with seven players having finished at least one game as Duke's high scorer this season.
Another thing about Currie -- who sat out what would have been her sophomore season with a torn ACL -- is her eye-catching ability to come up even bigger against ranked teams, where her scoring average jumps to 17.4 ppg. Currie always gets after it. She's a warrior with a tough attitude. She doesn't back down from anybody or from anything and always steps up to the plate. It's no surprise that Currie, one of the most versatile and well-rounded players in the country, tallied a rare triple-double, with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, on Jan. 5 against Florida State.
Currie was widely considered the runner-up for national player of the year honors last season, and the only thing she needed to improve was her 3-point shooting. She has done that. Over her first three years, she made just 44 of 158 3-point attempts (21.8 percent). This season, she has more than doubled that accuracy to 49.2 percent, netting 30 of 61 treys, to rank second in the ACC.
Harding has also vastly improved her 3-point shooting (19-for-35, 54.3 percent) this season, which means Duke can drive inside or hit the deep ball. She's very much a pass-first point guard, which is why her 11.3 scoring average is lower than her peers' averages, such as UNC's Ivory Latta. But like Currie, Harding's overall game is what gives her the edge. Because she's such a complete player, she can score if she needs to, as evidenced by her 13 double-figure games this season. Harding plays better defense than a lot of the other top-name point guards out there (2.0 steals per game) and also is a solid rebounder (3.4 boards per game).
More than anything, Currie and Harding complement each other. They are very much in tune with one another on the court. And for now, that's a huge edge for the Blue Devils.
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.
18dBonnie D. Ford