- Melanie Jackson, Women's Basketball and Women's Soccer
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Editor's note: As the NCAA celebrates its 25th season of women's basketball, ESPN and ESPN.com count down the top 25 moments of NCAA Tournament history. Here, we continue the countdown with memorable NCAA moment No. 21, Duke's victory over Tennessee in the Elite Eight in 1999.
For Tennessee, the game was supposed to be just another step toward what many expected to be a fourth straight national title.
But Duke coach Gail Goestenkors wanted her team to know that the Blue Devils' East Regional matchup with the heavily favored Lady Vols could serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country.
"We talked about respect," Goestenkors said last week, "that it was a statement game not just for that team, but for our program."
Indeed, Duke's 69-63 victory over then-No. 2 and three-time NCAA defending champion Tennessee in the 1999 Elite Eight was a benchmark moment for the program. One of the biggest upsets of women's NCAA Tournament history -- which ranks No. 21 in ESPN and ESPN.com's countdown of the top 25 moments -- earned the Blue Devils their first trip to the Final Four, paved the way for a spot in the national title game and no doubt caught the eye of youngsters such as Alana Beard and Monique Currie.
"When the buzzer went off at the end of the game, that was the most joyful feeling in my life," Goestenkors said. "It was one moment of utter bliss."
Tennessee, of course, was feeling something utterly different, almost from the get-go. Duke's defensive stalwart, Peppi Browne, swatted away a shot from Tennessee sophomore Tamika Catchings on the opening possession of the game, and the Blue Devils established control soon after. With less than seven minutes into the game, Tennessee led for the last time, 11-10. After that, Duke led by as many as 13 points, before taking an 11-point advantage into the locker room at halftime. In the second, the Lady Vols put together some rallies, but the Blue Devils fought off every one, preventing them from even tying the score.
How did Duke do it?
"We ran a triangle-and-two most of the game, and that really worked to perfection for us," said Goestenkors, whose Blue Devils were a No. 3 seed. "And we needed them to miss some shots, and fortunately, it wasn't a good shooting night for them."
In fact, it was one of the worst for senior Chamique Holdsclaw. The Tennessee superstar had led the Lady Vols to a then-unprecedented third consecutive national title 12 months earlier and already held the NCAA Tournament record for most career points (her record stands at 479). The four-time Kodak All-American averaged 21.3 points that season and an amazing 21.8 points in her 22 NCAA Tournament games. But in her last game, on March 22, 1999 (interestingly enough, exactly six years before Pat Summitt would break the NCAA career coaching record), Holdsclaw mustered just eight points on 2-for-18 shooting from the field.
Still, shutting down Holdsclaw wasn't necessarily Goestenkors' ace in the hole heading into the game.
"When I first saw the bracket, I thought if [the Lady Vols] were going to lose a game, that was the one," Goestenkors said. "If we could get to the regional final, we'd be hitting them at the perfect time.
"They weren't that deep. They would be a little fatigued. They knew they could beat us [Tennessee beat Duke, 74-60, 3½ months earlier that season] and might be looking ahead to the Final Four."
But it was Duke that advanced to San Jose, Calif., largely in part because of the efforts of Georgia Schweitzer. In addition to helping hold Holdsclaw in check, the Blue Devils sophomore netted a career-high 22 points and was named the East Region's Most Outstanding Player.
"She was a young kid to be put in that situation," Goestenkors said, "but she hit some huge shots for us."
Moment No. 20 will be unveiled Sunday during ESPN2's February Frenzy coverage.
14dBonnie D. Ford