Duke's depth, defense do in Lady Vols
Updated: January 24, 2006, 2:08 PM ETBy Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com
DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke's Lindsey Harding spent last season on the sideline, watching, learning, thinking things through.
On Monday, Harding was at center stage in what was supposed to be a showdown between No. 1 Tennessee and No. 2 Duke at sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium. But thanks in large part to Harding, it wasn't that at all. It was the Blue Devil Show, a 75-53 victory that was the kind of thumping Tennessee is used to handing out to other teams. As Tennessee's Alexis Hornbuckle put it, "I think they had the swagger that we usually carry." The Cameron Crazies student section was well-prepared for Hornbuckle, giving her the kind of grief opposing men's players typically endure. The Crazies taunted Hornbuckle with empty Wal-Mart bags and chanted, "Wal-Mart!" and "Rollback prices!" Hornbuckle was arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting at the end of her senior year of high school from a Wal-Mart in her home state of West Virginia. It appeared to be just a senior-prank thing, something for which Hornbuckle was sincerely contrite and embarrassed. The case was resolved with community service and a fine. Mocking someone's troubles isn't the classiest thing to do -- but it showed that Duke's students were treating the opposing team just like they would for their beloved men's program. And love or hate the Crazies, anytime you have this kind of atmosphere for a women's game, it's something special. Hornbuckle said the crowd "didn't influence us at all," which is preposterous. Understandably, players rarely want to acknowledge that an outside source like a bunch of blue-wigged, face-painted, clapping, yelling, jumping, stomping loonies would get in their heads. But they did. And the Blue Devils got in Tennessee's pockets. Figuratively speaking, of course. Duke got 15 steals, eight of them by Harding. "Lindsey was amazing. If there's a better defensive player in the nation, I'd like to see her," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "She did a little bit of everything on the defensive end and really disrupted so many things they wanted to do. "And then on offense, she took it to the basket when she needed to, she hit the pull-up jumpers and she got the ball to the open player and ran the offense for us. So I thought she had an exceptional game." Harding, a 5-foot-8 junior, sat out last season, suspended for a violation of team rules. Harding was having a difficult time personally, trying to get her head together, figure out who she was and where she wanted to be. It seems she has a lot of those answers now, and she's making a case for being perhaps the best point guard in the women's college game. Monday, she had 15 points and four assists to go with her career-high eight steals. "I'm excited to be back -- I learned so much from last year," Harding said. "Also, I'm excited to play with Monique again, happy that she came back." That's Monique Currie, the Blue Devils' senior forward who had 13 points Monday night. Currie can look out of control and force things going to the basket sometimes, and she did that Monday. But she can also hit big shots and play superb defense, and by returning as a fifth-year senior, she's helping to give Duke a shot at the program's first national championship.
AP Photo/Sara D. DavisAlexis Hornbuckle and Tennessee couldn't stop Lindsey Harding and Duke, which held the Lady Vols to a season-low 53 points.
|“||I give Duke all the credit in the world. They came out and beat us at everything. They executed well, won all the hustle plays, they outrebounded us. They did everything that usually Tennessee is about. ”|
|— Tennessee's Sidney Spencer|
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.