By Steve Barnes, Duke Radio Play-by-Play
I love March.
The crack of the bat returns as Major Leaguers report to spring training and the college baseball season gets underway. The weather is consistent enough to play golf almost any day of the week and NASCAR engines roar to life to provide a soothing background for a nap after a grueling day of yard work.
March also happens to be the month that things really get crazy on the college basketball hardwood.
I’ve had the pleasure of calling quite a few memorable March victories over my 15 years as the play-by-play guy for the Duke women’s basketball team. Here are 10 that stand out. I’ll list them in chronological order to avoid any fisticuffs.
Duke 69, Tennessee 66 • March 22, 1999
Hands down the biggest win in program history happened in the Greensboro Coliseum in the East Regional final. It propelled the Blue Devils to the Final Four in San Jose for the first time in school history and made the women’s college basketball world stand up and pay attention to the upstarts from the ACC.
The Lady Vols were looking for their fourth straight national championship and were trying to go undefeated that season. A tenacious Blue Devil defense held the Vols to their lowest point total of the season and limited All-America Chamique Holdsclaw to 11 points on 2-of-18 shooting. Georgia Schweitzer was the regional MVP after scoring 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Now Dr. Georgia Beasley, she reflects on that magical night:
“There are rare opportunities in life to truly come together as a group and achieve victory with all the odds against you. I remember Michele VanGorp taking a charge when she had four fouls. I remember Lauren Rice and I being unable to contain ourselves in that last minute and Hilary Howard telling us to stay focused. We are still all so proud to be part of Duke women’s basketball and know the most memorable moment is yet to come.”
Duke 79, UNC 76 • March 6, 2000
All the Blue Devils needed to win their first ACC Tournament title was a change of scenery. After competing in Fayetteville, N.C., Rock Hill, S.C., and Charlotte, Duke cut down the nets for the first time in the first championship game in the Greensboro Coliseum after defeating their archrivals.
Guard Missy West, who battled knee injuries her entire career, scored 14 points to join Schweitzer (16), Rice (16), Krista Gingrich (11) and Sheana Mosch (10) in a balanced Duke scoring attack. The Blue Devils survived a 31-point outburst by UNC guard Nikki Teasley. Rice remembers the perfect ending to a great season:
“It’s still amazing that we went to the Final Four before we won an ACC title. We lost (leading scorer) Peppi Browne at the end of the regular season to a knee injury and weren’t sure how the season would end. We were a bunch of fighters who played hard and played together on both ends of the floor. I’ll never forget the last play of the championship game. I threw the ball three-quarters of the court to Georgia, who passed to Michele Matyasovsky for a layup that sealed our first ACC title.”
Duke 87, UNC 80 • March 4, 2002
The Blue Devils’ victory in the ACC title game in the Greensboro Coliseum capped a 19-0 league season. Duke became the first school in league history to accomplish that feat and did it with only eight players on the roster for most of the season. Fabulous freshman Monique Currie took home tournament MVP honors with 30 points and 12 rebounds in the title game. Sophomore Alana Beard was right behind her with 25. There was more excitement just around the corner for the team dubbed Eight is Enough.
Duke 62, South Carolina 46 • March 25, 2002
This contest is the first one on this list not played in Greensboro. The Entertainment & Sports Arena (ESA) in Raleigh was the site of Duke’s blowout victory that sent them back to the Final Four for the second time in school history. The Blue Devils led by 13 at the half and built from there on the way to San Antonio. Beard played all 40 minutes and scored a game high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Krista Gingrich, the team’s lone senior, remembers her contribution as eight was enough to get the Devils back into the elite of women’s basketball:
“I felt like I was playing a game of HORSE with their shooting guard Kelly Marrone. We matched each other’s 3-pointers on several consecutive possessions. (Both players hit three straight from long range.) After I hit the last one, I think it took the wind out of their sails and helped us get the win. The final buzzer sounded and I ran directly to Coach G (Gail Goestenkors) and thanked her (for coaching me) with a huge hug.”
Duke 77, UNC 59 • March 10, 2003
The Blue Devils stormed back from a 31-25 halftime deficit with 52 points in the second half to claim their fourth straight ACC Tournament title in Greensboro. Duke became the first school in league history to go 19-0 in back-to-back seasons. Junior Iciss Tillis scored all 21 of her points in the second half, leading the Blue Devils to the win and herself to the tournament MVP award. Beard made up for a sub-par shooting night by grabbing a remarkable 20 rebounds to go along with 16 points.
Two days later, Beard was selected as one of the ACC’s all time top ten female athletes as part of the conference’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Duke 57, Texas Tech 51 • March 31, 2003
The Pit in Albuquerque was the launching pad for Duke’s second straight trip to the Final Four. The Blue Devils dispatched a tough Lady Raiders squad that had plenty of fans from West Texas on hand.
Beard was the only Duke player in double figures with 28 points and earned her second straight regional MVP award. However, it took senior Sheana Mosch’s rebound and two free throws with 23 seconds left to ice the win and send the Devils on to the Final Four in Atlanta.
Duke 63, UConn 61 March 29, 2006 (overtime)
The Blue Devils knocked off the Huskies for only the second time in school history in front of a soldout partisan crowd in Bridgeport, Conn., to advance to the Final Four in Boston. Senior center Alison Bales was the region’s MVP after scoring 15 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking eight shots. She became the NCAA Tournament’s all-time leader in blocks with 42.
Duke shot a season-low 28 percent, scored a season-low 63 points and was held 24 points under its season average even with the extra five minutes. However, Duke hit six crucial free throws in OT and UConn’s buzzer beater fell just short.
“I remember the Connecticut crowd in complete silence as we celebrated. It was an awesome feeling,” recalled guard Lindsey Harding.
The Devils left Bridgeport Arena close to midnight and it was a fairly long ride to the New Rochelle, N.Y., airport where their charter jet was waiting to take the players, coaches, staff members, radio crew, band and cheerleaders back to campus. The TSA workers had already gone home, so the flight crew made the weary travelers wait until 4 a.m. before they finally agreed to screen everyone’s bags, so the flight could take off.
The bus pulled up in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium at six, just as the sun was beginning to rise. Coach Gail Goestenkors said “Good job ladies. I expect you to go to all your classes today.”
Duke 81, UNC 79 • March 1, 2009 (overtime)
This is the only game on this list that Cameron Indoor Stadium hosted and the only regular season game. It was also Senior Day and the final game for guard Abby Waner, who missed 14 of 15 shots until she nailed the one that counted.
Duke trailed 78-76 with 45 seconds left in the overtime when Joy Cheek intercepted a Carolina pass headed for the low block. Cheek headed up the court near the scorers table and saw Waner ahead and to her left.
“I just remember my teammates encouraging me,” said Waner. “When you shoot 1-for-42 or whatever I was from the floor, you really have to zero in and make it a possession-by-possession game. Jas (Jasmine Thomas) was scoring at will and because Carolina had to collapse on her, I got a great look from 3. There was no better feeling than running past my team after hitting that shot and hearing Cameron erupt. That is just how I always want to remember my gym.”
Thomas scored eight of her 19 points in overtime. Karima Christmas had 18, Carrem Gay added 15 and 13 rebounds while Bridgette Mitchell finished with 13 points.
Duke 70, N.C. State 60 • March 7, 2010
The Duke players and coaches had to dig out from under confetti and balloons for the first time since 2004 after their ACC Tournament championship game win, the first for Coach Joanne P. McCallie. The win was especially sweet for seniors Joy Cheek, Keturah Jackson and Bridgette Mitchell, who had played in the title game and lost the three previous seasons.
The trio were freshmen in 2007 when Duke was undefeated and ranked number one in the country only to be upset in the semifinals by the same Wolfpack, inspired by Kay Yow’s midseason return from a battle with cancer. The Blue Devils made it to the title game the next two years, but couldn’t cash in.
Junior Jasmine Thomas scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and passed out six assists to take tournament MVP honors. Karima Christmas added 13 points while Cheek had 11.
“I knew coming into that game that we were going to win,” said Cheek. “I go into every game thinking we will, but before that game we had all sat down as a team and vowed that we weren’t going to let another ACC tourney championship slip away. We had been to the finals two times prior and watched someone else celebrate. As a team, we felt it was our time and we finally took the balloons, nets and confetti back to Durham.”
Duke 81, UNC 66 • March 6, 2011
The outstanding trio of Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas capped their ACC careers with their second league tournament title in the rout of their archrivals. The three played in the championship game all four years and helped Duke become the first team to repeat since the Tar Heels did it in 2005. It was the Devils’ seventh ACC Tournament title, all since the scene shifted to the Greensboro Coliseum in 2000.
Jasmine Thomas won the tournament MVP award for the second straight year with 21 points in the title game, while freshman Haley Peters had 14 and Christmas added 13.
“It was a fun game to play because everyone gave something that day,” said Jasmine Thomas. “We just made up our minds that we were going to win. There are a couple of plays that stick out to me and describe the nature of that game. I shot a 3-pointer behind a screen Haley set. She was fouled and they counted my basket as well. The other was an awkward spinning-in-the-air layup that somehow went in for me. It made for a nice way to end my career at Duke as a back-to-back ACC champ.”
So there you have it. Looking back to research these games was almost as much fun as calling them the first time. I’m looking forward to making more March memories in the days ahead.