Blue Devils Return To Scene of Lone Loss
Duke was national runner-up, fell to Maryland last year in title game
March 23, 2007
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Gail Goestenkors has fond memories of Greensboro - even if her current Duke players don't.
Returning to the site of their only loss this season, the top-seeded Blue Devils (32-1) hope to repeat what they accomplished in 1999. That year, they won the Greensboro-based regional, reached their first Final Four and created what Goestenkors on Friday called "my greatest memories of coaching women's basketball."
They've got the chance to make some more, starting with Saturday's regional semifinal against fourth-seeded Rutgers (24-8).
But what the Blue Devil players remember most about this central North Carolina city is their last game here - a surprising 70-65 loss to surging North Carolina State three weeks ago in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, a defeat that snapped their school-record 30-game winning streak.
"It's kind of ignited a little bit more of a sense of urgency in that it can happen, and we only have a couple more games - you lose, you're done," guard Abby Waner said. "The last game, we still had the NCAA tournament to look forward to. More than anything it kind of got us a little more re-energized and a little more focused."
The freshman-laden Scarlet Knights also are motivated by a loss they can't forget - an 85-45 rout by Duke three months ago in Piscataway, N.J., that was their worst loss during coach C. Vivian Stringer's 11 seasons at the school.
"Duke is Duke, and they've been the No. 1 team in the country over the course of the year, and it speaks well of them," Stringer said. "They were in another stratosphere from everyone else, but we, on the other hand, were young and inexperienced and didn't have a lot of things that I think we feel more comfortable with (now)."
Rutgers finds itself preparing for yet another road game in the tournament. The Scarlet Knights - who had to beat lower-seeded Michigan State on the Spartans' home floor to advance to the regional semifinals - now must face a Duke team about an hour's drive from its campus in Durham.
The Blue Devils "at least know where the bathrooms are," Stringer said. "We'll familiarize ourselves. One thing I do like about this group is, they're young and they've got lots of energy. They'll find where the bathrooms are and all the other things by the time we play this game."
Rutgers won the Big East tournament, then beat East Carolina and the Spartans to extend its winning streak to five games entering its third consecutive appearance in the round of 16.
But not many of the current Scarlet Knights were around for those deep tournament runs - they have five freshmen and no seniors on the roster.
"It is going to be big for our freshmen to play their normal game," Scarlet Knights guard Matee Ajavon said. "Obviously, it will be a tough game for us with (Duke) having a lot of experience on this level."
The Blue Devils - who beat Holy Cross and Temple in the first two rounds - lost to Maryland in last year's championship game, are in the regional semifinals for the 10th straight year and are chasing their fifth Final Four.
Their first trip was most memorable for Goestenkors because Duke knocked off three-time defending champion Tennessee in the East Regional finals, a 69-63 victory that established the Blue Devils as a major player in women's basketball.
"It was really a statement game for our program, not just for that year, but it helped our program for many years to come," Goestenkors said. "I just remember the elation, the joy that I felt - I still feel that to this day, and probably always will."