Post game could decide 1 vs. 2 showdown

Updated: January 24, 2004, 3:53 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

A friend is going to be in Durham, N.C., this weekend on business, and thought, "Wow, Tennessee is in town. That should be fun.'' He checked on tickets ... and found out they were long gone.

Monique Currie
Monique Currie is Duke's top rebounder, grabbing 7.3 boards a game.
Duke will have its second advance sellout of the season Saturday when Tennessee makes its first visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium. For Duke, these big crowds are quite gratifying. The Blue Devils have made abundant progress with their fan base, but it's tough building attendance and interest in an area that has six Division I men's/women's hoops programs that have all gone to the Final Four.

Four of them -- North Carolina's men and women, Duke's men and North Carolina State's men -- all have at least one NCAA title. Of course, Duke's women don't, and that has been their primary goal the past few years.

But it wasn't so long ago when their goal was ... just getting the school to charge for attendance. The first time I went to Cameron was in 1993; I wasn't reporting but just watching and walked around trying to figure out where to buy a ticket.

Then this usher guy said, "Hey, come on in. You don't need a ticket for the women's games.''

So here we are, a decade later, and -- for a much different reason -- you couldn't walk up and buy a ticket for Saturday's game, either.

Some upsets have happened, others haven't, and the polls have worked out to provide a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in Duke and Tennessee.

Pat Summitt will make her first trip to Cameron, and a building that has been the site of so much fun drama in men's basketball adds another important chapter on the women's side.

On Thursday, Duke and Tennessee pretty easily got by their last obstacles before facing each other. Duke beat Maryland 78-48; Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt for the millionth time (OK, just the 41st) 79-54.

Duke's Iciss Tillis got her groove back with 21 points against the Terps. Now, the way Tillis had been mysteriously bricking or airballing nearly every attempt recently, you might guess it took her approximately 400 shots to score that many points.

But in fact ... she did it on seven of 12 shooting. We think we've uncovered what has actually happened: the real Iciss Tillis had been conked on the head by an envious identical stranger who then tried to take her place.

But just as Eva Grubb could pass only so long as Ginger on "Gilligan's Island'' before everyone started getting suspicious, Imposter Iciss was starting to raise a LOT of eyebrows with her shooting woes. Like Grubb, Imposter Iciss apparently was quite near-sighted without her glasses.

It's rumored that Alana Beard found Real Iciss making coconut-cream pies at a bakery in Raleigh, N.C., and going by the name of "Mary Ann.'' Jolted back to reality by Beard's voice, Real Iciss said her last clear memory was that she'd scored 11 points in a blowout win over Hampton at the end of December ... and then things went hazy.

Duke is sure glad to have Real Iciss back because the Tennessee post game is looking pretty good. Better, in fact, than it has the past few years, Summitt said.

Center Ashley Robinson, who has had to overcome a difficult recovery from an ACL injury after her freshman season, this year is playing more like what everyone expected. She has started every game and is averaging 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds.

Forward Shyra Ely is leading Tennessee in scoring (14.1) and rebounding (8.1). Against Vandy, she had 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting .

"Ashley has really stepped up her intensity on both ends,'' Summitt said. "And Shyra is more composed.''

Tye'sha Fluker, who like Robinson is 6-5, provides 6.1 points and 3.4 boards off the bench.

Told Summitt's comments on Tennessee's post play, Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said, "I agree whole-heartedly. That's exactly what I have down in my notes. (Ely) requires a double team, but then does a great job scoring on the double team. Robinson has improved as well ... those two work together very well.

"Fluker is very productive for the minutes she plays. Their guards do a tremendous job getting the ball inside.''

Duke's post play is a little harder to explain. It's well known that Tillis has never been what you'd call comfortable inside, but she certainly has her moments. In spite of the shooting woes -- OK, actually, that really was her the past six games -- Tillis is averaging 12.0 points. And she's at 6.9 rebounds per game.

Mistie Bass is at 11.1 ppg, and she can be very effective ... but she hasn't quite become a consistent force every game yet. Rookie Brittany Hunter is the real deal inside, but she has been limited by knee problems.

Goestenkors said before Thursday's game that Duke was very concerned about it, but Hunter was able to play for 15 minutes against Maryland after sitting out Sunday at Virginia.

At times, Duke's most effective "inside'' forces are guard Beard and wing player Monique Currie, who leads the Blue Devils in rebounds at 7.3 per game.

Goestenkors thinks Duke will need a big game inside -- both on offense and defense -- to defeat Tennessee, which would even the teams' series at 3-3. Duke won last year's regular-season matchup, in November, by 21 points. Then the Blue Devils lost by 10 to Tennessee in the Final Four semifinals.

One thing Duke would like to see is a fast start, since the Blue Devils haven't had that against some of their toughest opponents this season. That's why Goestenkors showed her team the video of the first half against UConn. She didn't think the Blue Devils needed to see their comeback against the Huskies, but rather why they got into such a hole in the first place.

The games against UConn last season and this season were both very important to Duke's development. Those experiences should, if nothing else, make the Blue Devils less nervous in a hyped atmosphere.

As for the Orange, it's a program that has played these types of games many, many times. Even so, Summitt sounded truly enthused about seeing the Cameron Crazies and soaking in the sights and sounds of the building.

My pal wishes he had a ticket ... but then again, he also thinks it's really cool he couldn't get one.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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