Archive for Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Great expectations await Duke in final

March 30, 2004

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— One team has been a No. 1 seed four years in a row. The other has only been to the NCAA Tournament four times.

In tonight's Mideast Regional final between Duke and Minnesota, the pressure of high expectations is on the Blue Devils, who have reached two straight Final Fours and lost in the semifinals each time.

"It's sort of unfinished business," Duke's three-time All-American Alana Beard said Monday. "Sometimes I wake up in tears thinking about how much this class deserves it and how much I want it for this program."

"It," of course, is a national championship, now three wins away for the Blue Devils and Golden Gophers.

"It's kind of hard just to put off to the side and ignore because there's such a strong fire burning inside of my heart," Beard said. "But you don't want to put it aside because it keeps that fire burning."

After being No. 1 during the season and winning their fifth straight Atlantic Coast Conference title, Duke (30-3) was expected to get this far -- and to make it a more rewarding tournament than the last two.

"Every year the question's been asked, 'Do you think you're going to win?"' Iciss Tillis said. "And every year the answer is, 'Yes.' But this is our last shot and we've got to leave everything out on the floor."

The Golden Gophers (24-8) have come from obscurity by taking out No. 2 seed Kansas State in the second round and No. 3 Boston College in the regional semifinals Sunday, a 76-63 victory.

With a deceiving record caused by playing seven games without second-team All-American Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota's rise as a seventh-seed has surprised everyone but the Gophers themselves.

"Four weeks ago when the seedings came out, no one expected us to do a whole lot," Whalen, a senior point guard, said. "I don't know that anyone other than our team expected us to get out of Minnesota."

It doesn't mean the Gophers want to win any less, just that they will come at the game from a different perspective.

"There's a difference between feeling like you have to go somewhere to wanting to," Whalen said. "When you want to do something, you play so much better and so much more in control compared to when you feel like you have to do something. Then, you start to feel the pressure."

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