7:00 PM ET, January 26, 2006
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Duke finally gave coach Gail Goestenkors something to worry about.Three nights after a surprisingly easy 75-53 victory over then-No. 1 Tennessee, the Blue Devils (No. 1 ESPN/USA Today; No. 2 AP) struggled early with Clemson, a team they have not lost to since 2000.Behind Lindsey Harding's 17 points, however, Duke overcame its sluggish performance and matched its best start at 20-0 with a 97-65 victory over the Lady Tigers on Thursday night."I thought we came out a little slow. We didn't have the focus that we normally have," Goestenkors said.For Duke, this was supposed to be the simple step in a rugged week that concludes Sunday night against its archrival, North Carolina (No. 2 ESPN/USA Today; No. 3 AP).Instead, as Goestenkors feared coming in, her players were out of sync, unfocused and clinging to a one-point lead midway through the first half.The Blue Devils (7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), though, soon enough looked like the team that will stay at No. 1 with a victory over the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium.Duke used a 22-2 first-half run to take control and equal its perfect start in 2002-03, the last time it reached the Final Four.At first, Clemson (8-12, 2-4) looked as if it sprung a perfect trap on Duke, caught between the Tennessee and North Carolina games."Those are two very emotional games for us, big rivals for us," Goestenkors said.The Blue Devils were not crisp for the first 12 minutes. Monique Currie, Duke's leading scorer, missed all four of her shots and when Clemson's Maxienne White hit a 3-pointer, the Blue Devils were up just 22-21 with 7:51 to go.A timeout got the Blue Devils refocused, though, and they set off on their game-changing run.Mistie Williams started the surge with an inside basket with 6:57 to go before halftime. Currie had two foul shots and a 3-pointer, her only field goal in a 1-for-7 half. By the time Harding finished it off with a three-point play and a short jumper, Duke led 44-23 with 1:29 left."We just had to rely on each other, calm down and play Duke basketball," Harding said.Not that the players have gotten a lot of help from excited Duke students and Blue Devils fans. Harding said while coaches preach the standard "one-game-at-a-time" philosophy, those outside kept asking about Tennessee and, now, North Carolina."We've all been anxious," she said. "This is exciting."Wanisha Smith, who scored 10 of her season-high 16 points during Duke's early struggles, knew the team's smothering defense would eventually surface.During Duke's first-half run, Clemson was 0-of-6 and committed six of its 14 first-half turnovers.White finally broke the Lady Tigers' field-goal drought with a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left, a span of nearly 8 minutes between buckets.Currie made only three of 10 shots, but was 8-of-10 from the foul line for 16 points.White led the Lady Tigers with 14 points, only one of those in the second half.Duke kept the pressure up in the second half. It hit seven of its first eight shots, including a 3-pointer by Harding that stretched the lead to 64-38.The Blue Devils eventually pushed the cushion to 38 points in the final minutes, a throttling even for a team that had won the previous eight games in the series by an average of 26 points.The only drama in the closing minutes was whether Duke could hit the century mark for the seventh time this season. Smith's layup with just over a minute left brought the Blue Devils within a 3-pointer, but Emily Waner's shot from behind the arc was long.Clemson has not beaten the Blue Devils since a 93-75 win on Dec. 9, 2000.First-year Lady Tigers coach Christy McKinney was hopeful that the Blue Devils might be caught napping with their minds on their next game."Then the bottom dropped out, the dam burst, whatever you want to say," she said.McKinney was surprised at Duke's final margin of victory against the Lady Vols. She stopped short of making a prediction for the Duke-North Carolina game (Clemson lost to the Tar Heels 105-61 on Jan. 6)."I don't want to make anyone in the conference mad," she said, laughing.Goestenkors says the Blue Devils will leave Littlejohn Coliseum not only with victory, but a lesson on achieving when you're not playing your best that can help them throughout the season."There are some games you just have to battle, get finished, get home and be glad you got a win," she said.
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press