Respect, title on line for Duke, Maryland
BOSTON -- Duke coach Gail Goestenkors was remembering her first NCAA title-game experience.
"When we made it in 1999, everybody was just shocked that we were even there," she said. "We were having fun, enjoying ourselves, no pressure. Then the national anthem came on. And that's when it just hit us, how close we really were to attaining our dream. It was the biggest game of the year and I felt us tighten up right then.
"We had been great until that point, and then you look around and say, 'We're 40 minutes away.' It was a bit overwhelming. I'm glad I experienced that, I know what it was like. I just need to be able to convey that to the team."
It's a senior-led Duke squad -- Monique Currie, Mistie Williams and Jessica Foley will play their final game for the Blue Devils on Tuesday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) -- that will be trying to beat a familiar foe in Maryland, which starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.
Duke brings more depth into the matchup with Maryland but you could say that about every game the Blue Devils have played this season.
At this point, though, depth might make a difference in terms of how the Blue Devils can defend Maryland inside. The Terps have are quicker there with Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper and Marissa Coleman, but Duke has a height advantage with Alison Bales, Mistie Williams and Chante Black. Having three very talented big people -- and a host of guards who can help with the interior defense -- might be the biggest key if Duke is to win this game.
Kristi Toliver had 12 turnovers against North Carolina, but still did a lot right for the Terps. However, Duke's Lindsey Harding and Wanisha Smith might be more difficult for her than the Tar Heels were. In which case, as she did at the end of the semifinal game, Shay Doron may need to step forward and help Toliver more with ballhandling.
Duke lost that 1999 title game 62-45 to a Purdue team led by two outstanding seniors: Ukari Figgs and Stephanie White. That was seven years ago -- can that really be? -- and the Blue Devils were the spunky, cute underdogs that plenty of "neutral" fans were rooting for.
OK, yeah, that does seem like a long time ago.
Since then, the Blue Devils have somehow turned into bad guys for a lot of women's basketball followers. I've never really been sure why, except that maybe everybody got sick of the Duke men's team a long time ago, and it just kind of bled over to the women.
In 1999, Tennessee was looking to four-peat, but Duke upset the Orange Crush in the Elite Eight. Afterward, Goestenkors and the Blue Devils did the old song-and-dance about "respect." You know, "Nobody picked us, nobody expected us to beat Tennessee, nobody believed in us but ourselves," as if anyone in their right mind was supposed to predict Duke would win that game.
Sunday here in Beantown, it was Maryland coach Brenda Frese's turn to do the "respect" gig. She started her news conference after the 81-70 victory over North Carolina, "I'll tell you, all season long this team has played with a chip on their shoulder, and I really felt like they have had to fight for respect every step of the way."
What on earth is she talking about? Do you know? Because I sure don't. Respect from whom? The media? Well, unless I'm imagining things, there's a postseason media guide here full of clips on articles written about the Terps.
Maryland started the season ranked No. 14 in both polls. The Terps moved into the top 10 after a close loss to Tennessee on Nov. 26, and stayed there the rest of the season. They jumped into the top 5 in both polls after a loss at Duke on Feb. 13. After beating the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament semifinals and then falling to North Carolina in the title game, they moved to No. 3. Seems like the coach voters and the media voters respected Maryland.
And as far as Crystal Langhorne not being on the Kodak All-America team well, don't blame the media for that. We make enough screw-ups, so we don't need heat for one that wasn't our fault. A group of coaches pick the Kodak 10, and Langhorne's absence is just another in a long line of questionable omissions. The Associated Press voters did have Langhorne as one of the top 10, as she was on the second team.
Did the selection committee disrespect Maryland? Are you kidding? The Terps got to be the No. 2 seed in the region that had the shakiest, most debatable No. 1, in Ohio State. Maryland had nothing to complain about with the committee, which puts the Terps in the minority.
So this disrespect came from where? I guess because the "experts" picked North Carolina to win this game? Was it so disrespectful to say, "Well, I think the No. 1 seed might beat the No. 2 seed?"
Of course not, but there is not a more-used motivational gimmick in sports than contrived "lack of respect."
Even without such an old favorite ploy, Frese knows how to motivate. Goestenkors does, too. And when these two teams meet up Tuesday, historical stuff will happen.
Either Maryland or Duke will win the program's first NCAA women's basketball title. A second team from the ACC will become a national champion, following the Tar Heels in 1994.
And two coaches who represent the so-called "next wave" of success will be in the spotlight. Goestenkors, actually, has been at the forefront of that wave for a while. At 43, she's seven years older than Frese and has coached a team to the Final Four for the fourth time. Anyone who might have gotten to know or talked to Goestenkors early in her career would have seen right away she was destined to coach at this level. And you could say the same thing for Frese.
And after watching the semifinals on Sunday, it seems clear we'll see the two best teams in the country playing Tuesday night.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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