Blue Devils aim to keep marching

By Ben Cohen The Chronicle

March 20, 2007

Durham, NC (CSTV U-WIRE) -- The RBC Center, the site of the No. 1 Blue Devils' first two games in the NCAA Tournament, is just about 20 miles from Duke's campus. Appropriately, the Blue Devils feel that a game at the Raleigh arena is essentially equal to a contest in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke (31-1) is undefeated at home this season and hopes to continue that streak in its pseudo-home game tonight at 5 p.m. against eighth-seeded Temple (25-7).

"By no means do we take our fans for granted," sophomore guard Abby Waner said. "We have a great following in North Carolina. We got really lucky to be here in Raleigh, and we consider it a home game for us."

For the Blue Devils, one of the benefits of playing so close to home is the ability to commute back and forth from Raleigh to Durham-which would not have been possible had they been shipped away, like fellow top seed North Carolina was to Pittsburgh. The players who live in dormitories slept at the Washington Duke Inn Saturday night, in preparation for the Sunday game. They also attended their Monday classes before returning to Raleigh, where the Blue Devils spent the night.

The effect of the friendly confines of a nearby gym was evident Sunday night, when Duke beat Holy Cross 81-44 behind Waner's 26 points. The competition Tuesday evening, however, will be more evenly-matched. Even though the Owls barely snuck by ninth-seeded Nebraska-beating the Cornhuskers 64-61 after closing the game on a 9-2 run-Duke is not looking past its competition.

"We have great respect for them," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I thought it was a great game they had against Nebraska. It showed their athleticism, it showed their fight when they got down early.... They have that never-say-die attitude."

Temple's reluctance to concede a win was clear Dec. 10 in Philadelphia, when the Owls narrowly missed upsetting then-No. 1 Maryland. Temple led with seven minutes remaining until the Terrapins ended the game on a 19-4 run to ensure their 77-66 win.


Unfortunately for the Owls, their athletic players in the frontcourt-arguably the team's greatest strength-will face the formidable duo of 6-foot-7 Alison Bales and Carrem Gay. The two combined for 23 points and 11 rebounds Sunday. With that in mind, Goestenkors said that Temple's strengths would not drastically alter Duke's gameplan.

"We're going to do everything that got us here," Goestenkors said. "We played other teams that are athletic and like to penetrate, and we feel that the ACC has really prepared us well for this tournament."

After a disappointing and somewhat surprising loss to N.C. State in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, the Blue Devils had no problem dismantling the overmatched Crusaders Sunday. They were keyed by Waner's shooting, which has been exceptional in postseason play. In the ACC Tournament, Waner was voted to the All-Tournament first team after shooting 11-for-18 from three-point range. She continued her hot streak Sunday, ending 6-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Despite her rejuvenated touch and the fact that most experts predict that Duke will cruise to the Final Four in Cleveland, Waner said the team's mindset has not wavered.

"We don't have this invincible feeling because that's a false sense of security," Waner said. "But we are very confident in our potential as a team, and we know that our potential is an NCAA championship. By no means are we going to stop ourselves short of that goal and second-guess ourselves."

(C) 2007 The Chronicle via CSTV U-WIRE