Tennessee to test Tillis on Saturday

Updated: January 24, 2004, 3:54 PM ET
By Melanie Jackson | Special to ESPN.com

Iciss Tillis finally broke out of her shooting slump on Thursday, scoring 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting to reach double-figures for the first time since Dec. 28.

So does that mean Duke coach Gail Goestenkors has cancelled the call to the sports psychologist?

During her teleconference earlier in the week, Goestenkors said she had tried everything to help Tillis -- whose average had dipped from 18 points a game to 11.4 over the past six games before Thursday's win.

Goestenkors played good cop, bad cop and everything in between. They had Tillis, Duke's senior forward who was a Kodak All-American last season, watch a highlight tape of some of her best moves since she arrived in Durham. On Tuesday, it seemed Goestenkors was out of ideas.

"I've tried being hard on her and really getting after her; I've tried being very positive and her teammates have been positive with her and continue to pass her the ball trying to show her that they have confidence in her," Goestenkors said. "I had another talk with her about seeing a sports psychologist because I feel like we've tried everything.

"She comes early and stays late. Sometimes you can't control if the ball goes in the basket ... We're trying to get her to focus more on the things she can control and let the other stuff go. Let it come to her instead of trying to force it to happen."

Apparently, Tillis got the message and delivered on Thursday.

"I didn't think in the game," she said. "I went out there and played."

Tillis, who had made just 13 of 58 (22 percent) attempts from the field over the previous six games, made five of her first eight shots. She also went 2-for-3 from 3-point range, where she was 3-for-13 since Dec. 28.

Tillis' troubles were most evident against UConn. She went 1-for-8 from the field in the first half, heaving the ball toward the basket just about every time she touched it. Though Duke pulled out the win, Tillis finished with six points in 32 minutes.

Against Tennessee -- which Duke faces Saturday as the No. 1 Blue Devils host the second-ranked Lady Vols -- last year in the Final Four, Tillis struggled in a 4-for-11 shooting performance. Things could get even tougher for Tillis on Saturday, particularly in the paint, since Tennessee's post game is the best "we have had in the last three years," said Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.

Goestenkors agrees, and has said the key to beating Tennessee will be Duke's post defense and offense.

Still, Alana Beard said Tillis' presence is even more important.

"I totally believe that we can't win a national championship without Iciss," said Duke's player of the year candidate.

Comin' to Cameron
Tennessee has played in some of the largest crowds in women's college basketball history. Still, Summitt is looking forward to her first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"I am excited. It's a great atmosphere for college basketball with a lot of electricity. You can feel it by just sitting and watching," she said. "We have played in front of sell-out crowds, but from what I understand this is going to be a little different and more challenging."

Summitt also looks forward to keeping the Duke-Tennessee rivalry going.

"From my standpoint, I would like to do that," she said. "I may change my mind after Saturday night, but for now I'd like to do that."

Special 'K'
UConn started the season with both its men's and women's teams at No. 1. Now it's Duke's turn at the top.

Does Goestenkors and Duke men's coach Mike Krzyzewski get along any better than UConn's Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun?

"We're very close, both the teams and the coaching staff," Goestenkors said of her relationship with Coach K. "They come to our games and we go to their games. The players are all good friends as well. Mike and his staff always know whom we're playing and when we're playing, wishing us luck so they're very aware of what's going on. Not just with our program but with the women's game in general."

Goestenkors said Coach K also has "helped me out in every possible way" over the years.

"I went to him very often early on to seek advice," she said. "He has also helped us with recruiting. He is more than happy and willing to talk to our recruits and talk to parents. He's an amazing person."

Check the schedule
So which team comes closest to matching Tennessee's consistently brutal nonconference schedule?

Summitt says Rutgers, which has "taken on as big a challenge as we have."

Summitt believes her tough schedule keeps the Lady Vols motivated throughout the season.

"Players like the competition in the conference and to have some of the great national matchups," she said. "Whether it is going out to play Stanford, Duke or Texas, it is a great motivation for your players to get ready for a big game on a consistent basis."

Passing fancy
Earlier this season, Tennessee's Shanna Zolman dazzled DePaul coach Doug Bruno with a behind-the-back pass, which he said is as exciting in the women's game to a dunk in men's basketball.

Though Summitt said she would "probably prefer a dunk for excitement," she was impressed.

"Shanna is a fundamental player, and we challenge her to work on her passing skills. To me, that is a lost art," Summitt said. "So many players we recruit are the go-to players. They don't come in here with the mindset of being a great passer. They are more concerned with getting open and knocking down shots. The coach's challenge at this level is to teach them how to play defense and throw a strike every time on offense."

Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail the Dish at Melanie.J.Jackson.-ND@espn3.com.

Melanie Jackson | email

Women's Basketball
Melanie Jackson is ESPN.com's women's basketball editor.

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