10/29/04 — OPINION -- Duke is second to Carolina?

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OPINION -- Duke is second to Carolina?

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 29, 2004 1:57 PM

Is it true? Is Duke the second-best women's basketball team in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season?

Someone call the voter registration board and request a recount. Also, don't forget to check for those hanging chads. Somewhere along the way someone must have voted twice on one ballot, or forgot how to spell D-u-k-e.

Yeah, the Blue Devils lost Alana Beard -- a three-time ACC player of the year. Gone is rebounder/slasher Iciss Tillis, a Kodak All-American. And long-range threat Vickie Krapohl won't patrol the perimeter this season.

These are, no doubt, meaningful losses.

But No. 2 in the ACC? Duke, which has won an unprecedented five consecutive ACC championships and returns three starters, gets picked second behind North Carolina?

The Tar Heels? A team the Blue Devils have owned physically, emotionally and psychologically in this decade?

It's difficult to imagine Coach G's squad received two less first-place votes than UNC from a panel of 40 pollers on Wednesday in Greensboro. The voters did select Monique Currie as the preseason player of the year.

Did they forget about returnees Lindsey Harding and Misti Williams (formerly Bass before she got married last summer)? How about senior Wynter Whitley, junior Jessica Foley, and sophomores Alison Bales and Caitlin Howe? All those role-players will see some quality playing time this season.

Just what was on that lunch menu?

There must have been some aphrodisiac served that swayed the voters to favor the powder blue over the navy blue. Or, maybe there was a convention somewhere in Grandover Resort that had an open bar and the "spirits" coerced the voters into selecting UNC.

Don't get me wrong. The Tar Heels are a consistent second-place finisher -- or first-place loser -- each season in the ACC. They have talent and usually adapt well to Sylvia Hatchell's style of coaching.

But they're not the Blue Devils.

UNC does not have that unity, that teamwork, that bond which seems to give Duke a significant edge before it even steps onto the court for pre-game warm-ups. The Blue Devils play with a high energy level. They play with a passion that originates not only from their coach, but their pride and self-esteem.

Duke is ACC women's basketball.

Coach G has turned a doormat into one of the nation's top winningest programs during the past five seasons. The Blue Devils have put together the most historic run in league history since it's inception two-plus decades ago. Who can argue with a program that's played for the national championship and reached a couple of Final Fours?

Not the Tar Heels.

UNC does play with great intensity and drives opponents crazy with its scramble-style defenses. But the consistency level doesn't match Duke possession for possession. Some Tar Heel players, especially the last two or three seasons, have been guilty of playing individually in big games.

Beard could have been accused of individual play last season. But her individuality still involved her teammates when she single-handedly turned games around in the second half. The supporting Blue Devil cast played superb during those stretches, too, and had no trouble allowing Beard to play her game.

The Tar Heels hardly demonstrated that kind of teamwork.

UNC lost games down the stretch because it fell out of synch offensively and defensively. The Tar Heels also committed costly turnovers and fell victim to playing the opponents' style instead of staying within the framework of their offense.

Duke hardly fell into that pattern.

The teams' merits, returning players and intangibles can be argued for days here in this space. Before it's all said and done, some writers will disagree and some writers will agree on the voters' preseason predictions.

What do I think?

Coach G will undoubtedly build this year's team around Currie, who has the same playing ability as Beard. Williams, Whitley and the 6-foot-7 Bales will undoubtedly help her in the post.

The Blue Devils might not post dominating numbers comparable to when Beard, Tillis and Krapohl wore the blue and white. But you can bet when the season tips off Nov. 12 in Durham, you'll still see that fervor in the players' eyes.

You'll see that intensity, that hard-nosed defense and scrappy hustle for loose balls -- especially from Foley. You'll continue to see an offense that runs with the precision of a Timex watch.

And you'll see that fierceness from Coach G that she instills in every player who bounces a ball for her.

Duke is ACC women's basketball.