NORFOLK, Va. -- 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 Tuesday night's Mideast Regional final between Duke and
Minnesota (7 ET, ESPN), 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 ACC 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 on 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
It doesn't mean the Gophers want to win any less, just that they
will come at the game from a different perspective than Duke.
"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.''
Duke's seniors prefer to view it as desire, but the affect is
the same and clearly enhanced as they prepare to make one last run
at a national title.
Tillis has a nightly ritual attached to championship dreams.
"Every night before I go to bed, I think about playing great
and the shot clock winding down and we're up and we're looking at
each other and somebody throws the ball up and everyone rushes out
there,'' she said.
"I get that feeling and I smile. I think about it every year. I
always get the feeling of us winning and it hasn't come true yet,''
she said. "But I really really still feel it's going to come
Tuesday's winner will play Connecticut in the Final Four.