CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke has the home-court advantage again tonight as the Blue Devils try to get back to the NCAA Women's Sweet 16.
They're looking to get there for the 12th time in the last 13 years, erasing the taste of their second-round loss at Michigan State last season.
What they won't have is an easy opponent.
Joanne P. McCallie's No. 6 Blue Devils (28-5), seeded No. 2 in the Memphis Region, will face No. 7 seed LSU (21-9) at 7 p.m. in what should be a solid defensive battle between a couple of athletic, defense-oriented teams.
The two teams rolled to easy first-round victories on Saturday, the only games that day in which the losers failed to get 40 points.
"We're working hard coming off of our last game," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said Sunday. "Particularly on stopping penetration, rebounding, playing more aggressively, executing better and with better patience.
"We're putting together defensive thoughts on a very aggressive and penetrating LSU team. We will see (Allison) Hightower, who is just a terrific attacking, slashing guard. Also, two of their post players are extremely strong so they have some good balance with their starting five."
Veteran LSU coach Van Chancellor said Duke's defense definitely presents a tough challenge.
"They (the Blue Devils) are a pressing team, and they use multiple defenses," Chancellor said. "They use about every defense you can run. They're good at all of them. They're long, they're lean, they run good, they jump good, they're great athletes. And you play in this building where the fans are right on top of you and I think that just fuels their press.
"They're deep, they're big, they have great length, and I think playing here at Cameron Indoor Stadium is going to be an absolute advantage for them."
Duke scoring leader Jasmine Thomas (pictured) said LSU reminds her of ACC foe Georgia Tech.
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—Up until Saturday night, the Carolina RailHawks had been peppering the back of the net on the practice fields against local college teams as a couple dozen fanatics and family members stood along the sidelines. A short walk across the parking lot, they found a bigger club, the MLS's New England Revolution, a bigger crowd, 3,538 officially, and even field lights that allowed coaches to see what was happening across the pitch.
The Cary club, introducing a few new players to a group that finished second in the USL last season and experimenting with a new formation, fell 2-1 to the MLS side, though they were touting the glass-half-full view afterward.
"Sometimes in preseason it's actually better to lose. It sounds silly," said RailHawks coach Martin Rennie, who had just witnessed his team equalize in the 85th only to concede the winner to local product Zack Schilawski two minutes later.
"When you don't play that well, which we didn't, and you lose, it gives you a chance to really build on something and to really show people, 'Hey, this ins't quite good enough, and this is where we need to improve.' From that perspective, coaching wise, I'm really positive about it. Nobody seemed to pick up any major injuries, everyone seemed to come through OK. A lot of guys played 90 minutes, which is really good at this stage of the season, so I feel like we're on track."
It must be preseason.
In addition to Rennie's upbeat attitude, there were other signs of a dress rehearsal such as New England's 61st minute quadruple substitution, which featured only two players with names on the back of their shirts, part of 11 combined swaps made by the clubs, and the rotating technicolor footwear sported by RailHawks defender Mark Schulte.
Spotted wearing black and red Nike boots a week ago, Schulte warmed up in yellow cleats before entering the game in the 66th with Ninja Turtle green shoes with red laces.
"I love these shoes," Schulte said of the Nike Total90 Laser III model. "Gosh they're ugly, but I love how they feel."
We're used to seeing world-class goal scorers Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres bulge the old onion bag (apologies to Tommie Smyth) with the odd colored $200 boots, but they seemed an interesting choice for a workmanlike center back. But after watching Schulte drill a shot into the upper 90 with them, scoring the team's lone goal of the match amid a scramble from a corner kick, I'm thinking Nike's claim that "it's gotta be the shoes" must have some weight to it.
"I just closed my eyes and hit it hard," Schulte said.
Schulte, who usually shouts out traffic for the team at the back and expects to retain the captain's armband this year "if I can find it," wasn't fit to play 90 minutes, but made an impact after coming on in the 66th. In addition to his blind strike, he played a pass to holding midfielder Amir Lowery that led to Schilawski's winner.
N.C. State got its wish to play in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in its first season under Kellie Harper.
Tonight, the younger players on the Wolfpack - which hasn't been in the tournament since 2007 - get to see what it's really all about.
The Wolfpack (20-13) is seeded No. 9 in the Kansas City Regional and will take on No. 8 seed UCLA (24-8) in its first-round game at 9:30 tonight in Minneapolis.
An interesting sidebar has Harper (pictured) going against UCLA coach and fellow former Tennessee guard Nikki Caldwell, who was a graduate assistant with the Lady Vols during Harper's 1998-99 senior season - oddly the only time during Harper's career the team didn't win the NCAA title. Caldwell was a player on Tennessee's 1991 NCAA title team.
"I think Pat recruits highly competitive people, and I think that's one thing Coach Caldwell and I have in common," Harper said during Saturday's press conference in Minneapolis. "When you play at the University of Tennessee you're bound with all other former players, whether you played together or not, and that's the connection that Nikki and I have. I think each player that plays for Pat (Summitt) takes away something and for me, I've tried to take away poise during game situations and (I've) tried to take away running a classy program, and I think Nikki does the same thing. She's very professional, has a lot of energy, and has done a great job."
UNC was entertaining for nearly 40 minutes in its first-round NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament game against Gonzaga late Saturday night.
But the Zags won the last couple of minutes and the Tar Heels are headed back home.
Tiffany Shives had all of her 16 points in the second half including four 3-pointers, helping No. 7 seed Gonzaga to an 82-76 win over the No. 10 seeded Tar Heels in Seattle.
Katelan Redmon led Gonzaga (28-4), which has won 18 straight games, with 18 points.
Chay Shegog (pictured) hit nine of her 10 field-goal attempts and finished with 19 points to lead the Tar Heels.
Laura Broomfield added 16 points and 14 rebounds while Italee Lucas also had 16 points for UNC (19-12). Cetera DrGraffenreid chipped in 11 points.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM "March Madness" has come to Duke's home floor, as for the first time in six seasons the Blue Devils are hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Tournament.
The No. 6 Blue Devils, who lost a heartbreaker in the second round last season at Michigan State, appreciate sleeping in their own beds this week.
But their first-round opponent for Duke, seeded No. 2 in the Memphis Region, isn't necessarily an easy one.
No. 15 seed Hampton is coming off an impressive run to win the MEAC Tourmament, and has brought several hundred enthusiastic fans down for the game.
No. 7 seed LSU has little trouble with No. 10 seed Hartford in the opener, winning 60-39 in a game from which Hawks coach Jennifer Rizzotti is ejected.
Hampton makes some early trouble for the Blue Devils, but things return to form well before halftime in a 72-37 Duke win. It is the Pirates' worst loss of the season, while Duke has advanced to the second round of the NCAA for the 15th straight season.
Deep in the heart of Dixie, North Carolina point guard Larry Drew himself showed the heart many have questioned all season. In a tie game with fewer than 10 seconds to play, Drew drove the length of the court, split three defenders and made a contested layup to give the Tar Heels a 76-74 victory against Mississippi State in the second round of the NIT.
Carolina justifiably has been lambasted for its poor performances on the road this season, but the Heels clawed back from two substantial deficits and took the lead late thanks to the timely shooting of Will Graves and some key defensive plays by John Henson.
The Heels are the No. 4 seed in their bracket and MSU was No. 1 —and would have beaten Kentucky and made the NCAA Tournament if not for a last-second collapse last weekend — so this constituted a major triumph for this iteration of the Tar Heels.
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke begins its 16th straight appearance in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament on Saturday afternoon, and Joanne P. McCallie's Blue Devils have one benefit they'll have for the first time since 2004.
They're starting the tournament on their home floor.
Duke (26-5), which is ranked No. 6 nationally, has the No. 2 seed in the Memphis Region and will take on No. 15 seed Hampton (20-11) in a 2:30 p.m. game at Cameron.
It's the second game of a doubleheader, as No. 7 seed LSU (20-9) will face No. 10 seed Hartford (27-4) in the noon game, with the winners squaring off at 7 p.m. Monday night.
Plenty of tickets are available.
Duke isn't the only Triangle ACC team playing its first-round game Saturday, as No. 10 seed UNC (19-11) will take on No. 7 seed and nationally No. 18-ranked Gonzaga (27-4) in the Sacramento Regional in Seattle at 10:30 p.m. The No. 10 seed is the Tar Heels' lowest NCAA seed ever.
No. 9 seed N.C. State (20-13) will play its first-round game on Sunday night against No. 8 seed UCLA (24-8) in Minneapolis in the first round of the Kansas City Regional.
Duke and Hampton have one thing in common that the other teams at Cameron don't, and it's not because they're blue-clad teams from well-regarded private schools in neighboring states.
They both won their conference tournaments - in locations about half an hour apart, as the Blue Devils won the ACC in Greensboro and the Pirates won the MEAC in Winston-Salem.
"We're obviously really proud to host this wonderful NCAA Tournament, and we're grateful to a lot of people at Duke that made this possible," said McCallie, whose team last season played its NCAA games at Michigan State where she was the former coach and lost to the Spartans in the second round. "That's just a great thing for Duke, and it's really reflective of the long tradition and history here."
The Blue Devils will be taking on a Pirate club in its first season under David Six, who began the campaign as interim head coach and has earned a three-year contract.
Hampton is 0-3 in first-round NCAA games at the Division I level, but won the NCAA Division II title in 1988.
"This is hallowed ground in terms of basketball, Cameron Indoor Stadium," said Six, one of whose assistants is former N.C. Central point guard and assistant coach Annitra Cole. "Everybody's heard about it or seen it on TV. But at the end of the day the court's 94 feet, the baskets are 10 feet off the ground. So that's what I've told my young ladies, and we're ready to go. I just think that we can't get caught up. We're happy to be here; don't get me wrong. We celebrated that we're here, but now that we're here we want to stay. It's like getting into a party and then getting put out. We want to dance a little while, so let's try that."
Duke, of course, would like to believe it can go a long way in the tournament.
"I just think we have to be focused, stick to our game, and play the way that's made us successful," senior forward Joy Cheek (pictured) said. "Play defense and make the hustle plays. In the tournament everyone has played 30-plus games, so every game is not going to be pretty - it's the team that wants it more. And we have to want it more that our opponent each game. So if we want to make a deep run in the tournament - which I think we're more than capable of doing - we have to go out and play like every game is our last game."
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH - Joe Corvo's two-goal effort...Chad LaRose's late heroics....Ray Whitney's overtime wrister led his team to a 4-3 win over Thursday night. There we go.
If all the Washington goals had counted, the ‘Canes wouldn’t have even made it to overtime. But thanks to a Whitney tally in overtime, Carolina won just its second game of the year after going into the second period down a goal. Corvo's pair couldn’t save the league-leading Capitals, who clinched the Southeast Division last week.
There were two noticeable absences on the ice tonight. League points leader Alex Ovechkin was serving the back end of a two-game suspension for another illegal hit. The ‘Canes announced today that Tim Gleason would miss three weeks with a broken bone in his foot, even though he’d already played two games with the injury. Oh, that Gleason.
“Gleason’s probably the leader of our back end,” defenseman Brett Carson said. “He battles night after night. Obviously not having him in meant some other guys had to step up and play some minutes and I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Carolina got an early break when an apparent goal off the hand of Mike Knuble was waved off immediately with a few minutes left into the first period.
Scott Walker and Corvo have both seen dramatically different and ever-shrinking roles with their new club, the Capitals. Walker sat as a healthy scratch for Washinton's last two games, but due to injury and suspension, he was called upon to suit up tonight. Corvo got things started when he picked up a rebound to make it 1-0 and Walker got the secondary assist. Corvo memorably scored a hat trick the first time he faced the Ottawa Senators after they traded him, and obviously that was the start of a trend of sorts as he wound up close to another tonight.
“[Corvo] played well. It’s kind of a habit for him to score against his old teams, and I read in the paper today that he wasn’t even pissed off at us,” Whitney said. “If he was, we really would have been in trouble.
A joint press conference featuring coaches and players for the Carolina RailHawks and Major League Soccer's New England Revolution was designed to promote the teams' preseason friendly this Saturday evening, March 20, at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
However, another continuing revolution again took center stage thanks to one attendee, RailHawks' President Brian Wellman.
Joining Wellman for Tuesday's press conference at the Hilton Garden Inn in Durham, N.C. were RailHawks' coach Martin Rennie and captain Mark Schulte, together with longtime Revolution head coach Steve Nicol and two of their young players, Raleigh natives Darrius Barnes (a Duke University grad) and Zack Schilawski (a former Wake Forest standout). All appeared before members of the local media and a smattering of diehard RailHawks supporters.
Barnes enters his second season with New England as the only field player in MLS to play every minute of every game during his last year's rookie outing. Meanwhile, Schilawski is embarking on his rookie season with the Revolution after the team drafted him in the first round of this year's MLS SuperDraft. Although Schilawski will play in Saturday's game, Nicol confirmed that Barnes will not due to a minor injury.
Last year, the RailHawks won the Community Shield match against New England, 1-0. This year's game marks the end of the Revolution's 10-day training visit to WakeMed Park. Last weekend, the Revs traveled to Charlotte, where they defeated the USL-2's Charlotte Eagles 2-0. The match against Carolina will be their final tune-up before the scheduled MLS season opener against the L.A. Galaxy on March 27—a event that could be delayed or canceled if the ongoing MLS labor dispute isn't resolved by then.
I will defer to the RailHawks's revamped Web site for much of the arduous work of transcribing the comments that came from the dais. It is safe to say that the Railhawks enter the season a hungry and confident kettle. Coming off last year's regular season runner-up finish in USL-1, which included winning the most matches in the league, Rennie returns the core of his squad along with several new, key pieces.
"For players and for coach, a second-place finish isn't what we're after," said team captain Schulte. "We want to be first. It was a commendable season, considering no one really knew each other the first month or so. This year, I think is going to be something special."
But, it was Wellman who sounded the most insurgent chord, using his opening prepared comments to expound on the mindset of both his team and its fledgling, as-yet-unsanctioned league, the North American Soccer League (NASL).
"Every roster spot is a meaningful spot, and Martin has a plan for every guy on the roster to get us deeper in the playoffs and contend for championships in both the U.S. Open Cup as well as the NASL league cup."
The latter reference is eyebrow-raising, seeing how such a cup does not currently exist. The USSF has mandated that the member squads of both the USL-1 and NASL play in a combined USSF-sanctioned Division 2 league for 2010. Neither the USL-1 or NASL are individually sanctioned as D2 leagues by USSF this year.
CHAPEL HILL/CARMICHAEL AUDITORIUM — They aren’t finished just yet. North Carolina, which limped into the NIT after the horrifying season that’s been chronicled here and everywhere else, utilized a raucous crowd to defeat William & Mary 80-72 in the opening round of the tournament.
Unlike the NCAA Tournament, which creates neutral venues for every game, the first three rounds of the NIT take place at the higher-seeded team’s home court. And because Carolina — seeded No. 4 in its bracket — is undertaking renovations at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels’ former home became the default option.
And what a stroke of good fortune it was. From the opening tap, the Tar Heels played with far greater intensity and joy than they have all season. Roy Williams described the crowd as “sensational” after the game, and there’s little question that the Heels benefited from the building’s emotion to fight back from a late deficit — something they’ve struggled to accomplish all year.