Duke's Free Throw Failure Sends Rutgers To Elite Eight
Duke star Lindsey Harding missed two free throws in the final second
March 24, 2007
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) - Rutgers' season was over, or so it seemed. Less than a second remained, and the ACC's player of the year was headed to the free-throw line to shoot mighty Duke back into the regional finals.
That's when dependable star Lindsey Harding missed a free throw, which would have tied the game. She then missed another and the Blue Devils' season was done and Rutgers advanced to the Greensboro Regional final.
"I believed it was our destiny," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "When she missed the second shot, I still believed."
Harding's two misses from the foul line with 0.1 seconds remaining preserved the Scarlet Knights' 53-52 upset of the top-seeded Blue Devils on Saturday.
"They just didn't fall," Harding said. "It felt good coming off. Everything felt good. It didn't really go down."
Fourth-seeded Rutgers (25-8) rallied in the final minute, taking the lead for good on Epiphanny Prince's coast-to-coast layup with 20 seconds left and holding on to claim its the first berth in the regional finals since 2005.
"The only thing I can say is 'Wow,"' Stringer said.
Harding could have given the Blue Devils (32-2) the win - or at least forced overtime - when she stole an inbounds pass near midcourt, drove hard to the basket and was fouled by Myia McCurdy.
"Even with a foul like that, when you're up one and basically no time left on the clock, you have to keep thinking and believing, 'Maybe this year, this is the year we can succeed,"' Rutgers forward Essence Carson said.
Harding, a 75 percent free-throw shooter, missed both attempts hard off the back iron, and Carrem Gay's tipback as the horn sounded failed to come close. Harding fell to her back and covered her face in horror, while the Scarlet Knights celebrated their improbable rally at midcourt.
"My heart just breaks for her right now," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I just don't want this to be her lasting memory, because she has meant so much to our program."
Matee Ajavon had 20 points for Rutgers, which won its sixth straight game and now faces Arizona State (31-4) on Monday night with a berth in the Final Four on the line. The Scarlet Knights denied the Blue Devils their sixth straight berth in the regional finals.
"One game does not define a season or the type of season that they have had," Goestenkors said. "I don't think anybody in the country anticipated that we would have such a remarkable year."
Duke led 52-48 entering the final minute before Ajavon started the rally with a 3-pointer with 48.5 seconds left.
The Blue Devils worked the ball around to center Alison Bales, who missed a long jumper, and the rebound was ripped from Wanisha Smith's hands by Prince, who went the length of the floor and hit a layup over Harding - also the ACC's defensive player of the year - to put Rutgers ahead to stay.
Duke brought the ball downcourt before Carson stole the ball from Harding, and the Blue Devils fouled her with 5.6 seconds left before Harding came up with the steal on the subsequent inbounds pass.
"At that point we had to keep saying to ourselves 'Just believe,' because when you lose all faith in yourself, that's when you just defeat yourself," Carson said.
Bales finished her Duke career by matching her season high of 21 points, and she blocked four shots but fell one shy of the NCAA single-season record of 152. Gay added 10 points for the Blue Devils, whose two losses this season have come at the Greensboro Coliseum. They previously were upset here three weeks earlier by North Carolina State in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, a setback which snapped their 30-game winning streak.
"We had an amazing season," Gay said. "Everybody played their hardest. It just didn't come out in our favor."
Rutgers - which has five freshmen and no seniors on the roster - shot 57 percent in the second half and clearly was determined to avenge an 85-45 loss to Duke three months earlier. It was the most lopsided defeat in Stringer's 11 seasons with the Scarlet Knights.
"That loss hurt, and we were all embarrassed," Stringer said. "You (would) be humiliated and embarrassed and brought to your knees, but this team knew to some understanding that this is what it was going to take to really work hard and believe in your team."
Duke blew a 10-point lead early in the second half, while Rutgers clawed back and twice tied it before rallying in the final moments.
"They became very comfortable," Goestenkors said. "The longer they stayed with us, the more confidence they gained."