For Duke's Currie, title slips away once again
BOSTON -- After all the attention that came her way during five seasons at Duke, Monique Currie's career ended with her sitting alone in a locker room cubicle, legs crossed at her ankles, arms hanging limply between her legs.
One goal had driven Currie when she decided to return for one last season and she was less than 10 seconds from achieving it.
Then those young, plucky Maryland Terrapins rose up to deny her -- and that "can't-win-the-big-one" tag will dog the Blue Devils for at least one more season.
Maryland beat Duke 78-75 in overtime in Tuesday night's NCAA championship game, leaving Duke still searching for that elusive first title.
"It's just really disappointing. We were just so close," Currie said. "I think we had all the tools in place to win the national championship. Sometimes things don't work out the way you want it to."
There was no bitterness as Currie spoke and no tears, either. But the heartbreak was evident in her tone and the soft-spoken words came haltingly at times.
"It's hard to put everything in perspective right now," she said. "I know it takes everything to go perfect to win the championship. Unfortunately, it didn't go that way for us."
Currie, a fifth-year senior, could have entered the WNBA draft last year and would have been an early pick. But she saw the players Duke had returning and decided it was the Blue Devils' best chance to give coach Gail Goestenkors a championship.
It didn't happen, though it looked as though it would for much of the game.
Duke had 13-point leads in each half and was up 70-67 with under 20 seconds to play in regulation. But Maryland freshman Kristi Toliver hit a 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds left to tie it and the Terrapins were the steadier team in overtime, making all six free throws and leaving Duke frustrated again despite a sixth straight 30-win season.
"It hurts not to win the game knowing you had it," point guard Lindsey Harding said. "There's no reason we shouldn't have [won it.]"
Currie and her teammates trudged slowly off the floor while the Maryland players celebrated in a massed circle at midcourt. It was Duke's fourth trip to the Final Four, all since 1999, and second loss in the championship game.
The Duke players had talked at length about how much they wanted to give Goestenkors a championship. She has been one of the game's most successful coaches over the last 10 years, but still doesn't have the national title that many see as the ultimate validation of a coach's performance.
"I wanted to win it for Coach G," Harding said. "I get tired of people saying she can't win the big one and this and that. When it came down to the final, it was us as players. We were the ones who had to execute. She had us well prepared."
Currie put up 22 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in her final college game. After missing some easy shots early, she finished 7-for-16 from the field and went 8-for-9 at the free-throw line.
And down the stretch in regulation, Currie was there when her team needed her.
She scored inside to give Duke a 62-60 lead with 4:12 left. Her two free throws made it 66-62 and when she went in for a layup from the left side, Duke led 68-64 with 2:33 left. But it still wasn't enough.
"We never went on any big runs and they made a couple of big shots," Currie said.
Currie's playing days are a long way from over. A second-team All-American after earning first-team honors last season, she's expected to be one of the first four or five picks in Wednesday's WNBA draft.
But in a quiet locker room deep inside TD Banknorth Garden, what was only hours away seemed much further off.
"My heart is still with Duke," Currie said. "I spent my last five years with this team. It's hard to let go just like that."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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