Monday, March 31
Updated: April 2, 3:41 AM ET
Dissecting the Blue Devils
By Nancy Lieberman
Special to ESPN.com
Duke earned a spot in the Final Four for the second consecutive season Monday.
And the Blue Devils, who had been victim to slow starts in a couple previous NCAA Tournament games, answered a lot of questions with their gritty win over Texas Tech in the Midwest Regional final.
Of course, we have a few questions -- and answers -- of our own as Duke goes down to Georgia.
1. What has impressed you most about Duke so far in the NCAA Tournament?
The Blue Devils have been able to win despite the fact they're not playing their best. That's the mark of a great basketball team. Alana Beard also been been impressive, and has dominated in three of Duke's four games. It's almost as if she refused to be stopped.
2. What has surprised you most about Duke?
Its lack of offense and inability to score as often as it usually does. The Blue Devils, who topped 66 points in a game so far in the NCAA Tournament, haven't been able to score a lot of transition points and haven't seen a lot of consistency from anybody but Beard. Freshman Mistie Bass, however, has been a bright spot and is playing well.
3. What is Duke's biggest strength and weakness?
Earlier this week, Geno Auriemma said one of UConn's biggest strengths is that it has Diana Taurasi on its roster. The same can be said for Beard. She's a player who gets it done on both ends. On Monday, Beard changed the game. She blocked shots. She got to the basket. She's the total package and once again came up big time when she had to. She made more foul shots (12) than Texas Tech even attempted (11).
That being said, Duke's biggest weakness right now is its lack of a supporting cast. Beard has scored 34 percent of Duke's offense (86 of 254 points), with three performances of at least 19 points. Michele Matyasovsky (four points in 24 minutes Monday) and Vicki Krapohl (zero points) must step up and score some points. All their low-scoring performances do is put more pressure on Beard. She has to have some support. And I still have not seen Duke spurt, separate and finish.
4. What does coach Gail Goestenkors need to focus on?
Coach Goestenkors did a great job of coaching Monday. Her team was prepared and its defense did an excellent job of keeping Tech's Jia Perkins from ever getting comfortable. Goestenkors made one of the best plays of the game in the first half. Out of a time out, the Devils showed a 2-3 zone and trapped out of it. Up until that point, Duke wasn't playing with a lot of energy, but that was a turning point. From then on, the Devils played with an entirely different intensity, and their defense won the game.
Perhaps the most important thing for Goestenkors to do is just to continue to remain poised and relaxed. When Duke has fallen behind and struggled at times, Goestenkors has remained laid back and easygoing. The team sees that and knows there's no reason to panic. As the Devils were heading to the team huddle after a turnover in transition early in the first half Monday, for example, Goestenkors actually giggled about it. She smiled and kept up that good attitude. That's especially important right now. Sometimes it's toughest just to get to the Final Four, and hopefully Duke will relax and get in that breakout game where everything's clicking.
5. What does Duke need to do to win the NCAA title?
With Tennessee playing as well as it is, Duke can't sputter out of the gate again. The Blue Devils can't afford it. They need to start scoring some points in transition and be able to get their rebound-and-run style going.
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.