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Tomko: Duke To Face McCallie’s Old Team, Michigan State
Courtesy: Michael Tomko,
Release: 03/23/2009
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Photo Courtesy: Duke Photography
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EAST LANSING, MICH – It can be easy to get lost in the nostalgia of returning home.

Visiting old places, seeing old friends and remembering past moments of glory and disappointment are just some of things that can end up distracting the average person when they return to a place where they created a history for themselves.

Head coach Joanne P. McCallie has embraced her return home the proper way, enjoying and evening savoring some of the moments, yet not letting her focus drift away from the task at hand.

And after handling No. 16 seed Austin Peay 83-42 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament McCallie and her team have their sights set on a new opponent, one that the Duke head coach knows all too well.

In arguably the most intriguing second round matchup of the NCAA Tournament the top seeded Blue Devils (27-5) square off against No. 9 seed Michigan State (21-10), the team McCallie coached for seven years and reached the National Championship game with in 2005, at 7:00 p.m in East Lansing on Tuesday.

“Obviously, it’s very special to be in East Lansing, a great, great place hosting this event,” McCallie said.

“I have been here, but any advantage that we have we’re going to create,” she added. “At this point and time, all of these teams are very, very good. You can’t treat anybody differently and you’ve just got to really focus.”

McCallie racked up a 149-75 record while at Michigan State coaching the Spartans from the bench of the Breslin Center court into the NCAA Tournament for five straight seasons and one Big Ten Championship.

Almost through her second season at Duke, McCallie has a record of 52-17.

Coming into her first game coaching in the Breslin Center since leaving Michigan State two years ago, McCallie knew she needed to find a balance between visiting old friends and coaching her basketball team.

“I was just trying to focus,” McCallie said. “After the game, it’s a piece of cake to talk to people.  Before the game I was not wanting that because that is not what I would do before any game.  That’s just not what I do.  After the game it’s great to see people.  We’re just really focused on healing, getting better, and trying to play at a certain level.”

Prior to Duke’s opening round game, friends from McCallie’s old neighborhood stopped by the hotel to welcome the team to East Lansing with the head coach even grabbing a quick meal with some close friends, but that is where the line is drawn and the second-year Duke head coach will not allow her return to East Lansing be a distraction from Duke’s goal of leaving Michigan with a pair of wins.

“This is about keeping my regular focus of what I do as a coach; that’s easy to do,” McCallie said. “We’re just so excited to play.”

Michigan State edged out Middle Tennessee State 60-59 in the opening round with the Spartan defense not allowing the Blue Raiders to get a potential game winning shot off during the final 10 seconds. At one point the Spartans trailed by as many as 15.

“I know they’ve had their share of adversity, and obviously they rebounded in what appeared to be a very tough Middle Tennessee game,” McCallie said. “A one-point game speaks to a very tough game.”

Duke continued their recent trend of playing some of their best basketball of the season in their win over Austin Peay in the opening round, even without starting shooting guard Abby Waner, who missed Sunday’s game with a sprained knee.

 The Blue Devils shot over 49 percent from the field with 11 players seeing double-digit minutes and each player scoring.
The Blue Devils led by as many as 44 points in the game.

“Right now we are playing some of our best basketball,” Carrem Gay, who scored eight points in the opening round, said the day before facing Austin Peay. “If we are able to put together everything we have been working on, I don’t see why we couldn’t go very far into the tournament.”

All the challenges Duke has faced to reached this point in the season, like coming back on the road against USC or the their heartbreaking loss to Maryland in the ACC Finals, should help prepare Duke for an atmosphere on Tuesday night that will be as hostile as anything they have seen all season.

“During our season we have seen a lot of teams and have been in a lot of different scenarios, like coming back from a 17-point deficit for example and still winning the game by eight,” Gay said. “I think that speaks for itself and through the competition we have faced; I think we have learned a lot.”