On January 25, the women's basketball team played perhaps its best game of the year in defeating defending national champion North Carolina, 74-72.
Since then, however, the Blue Devils have been mired in a protracted letdown after the euphoria of the UNC win.
"We kept saying `we wouldn't let it happen,"' senior forward Carey Kauffman said. "Now it's happened twice."
After plodding to an unconvincing victory over eighth-place Florida State 11 days ago, Duke has lost consecutive games for the first time this year, at Clemson and at N.C. State. It wasn't just the losses that bothered Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors and the rest of the team--it was the way that Duke lost those games.
"We have no excuse for the way we played," Kauffman said following the N.C. State game.
"It's really disappointing that we came out and played so poorly," senior center Alison Day said.
Tonight, No. 21 Duke will return to the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time since the victory over UNC. The Blue Devils will face Maryland (10-11, 2-8 in the ACC), a former national power which is rebuilding behind two freshman and two sophomore starters.
But preparing for the Terrapins is not at the top of Goestenkors' agenda.
"I'm more concerned with us than I am with the other teams right now," she said.
One of her biggest concerns is her own team's defense. Sunday, the Wolfpack seemingly scored at will, especially in the first half when the State went up 39-20.
Wolfpack senior guard Tammy Gibson had 17 points by intermission on 7-for-7 shooting, with three of her shots coming from behind the three-point arc.
"We weren't playing any defense at all," Goestenkors said. "They did whatever they wanted to."
The Blue Devils also had a generally poor offensive game, most notably in the first half. The team shot 8-for-26 from the field and turned the ball over 15 times in the opening 20 minutes on Sunday.
"We need to get back to basics, do a better job taking care of the basketball," Goestenkors said.
She will also need to rekindle her team's intensity, a quality that has been missing from the team during the two losses.
"We just need to play hard and play smart," Goestenkors said. "Those were two of our keys actually [against N.C. State], and we didn't do either one.
"Playing hard is something that we usually pride ourselves in. [If] you don't come out and play hard in this league, the game's over."
Like in Sunday's game, Duke tonight will be playing a team that it easily defeated earlier in the season. The Blue Devils won that first encounter 80-62, as Duke continually pounded the ball inside against a smaller Terp defense.
Maryland depends heavily on all four of its healthy freshmen. Forward Stephanie Cross is averaging a team-leading 10.9 points per game, guard Sonia Chase averages 9.0 points per game and center Rachel Cimmier is one of the Terps' top reserves. Kalisa Davis has averaged 7.2 points per game, but did not play last week because of a stress fracture.
In general, though, this has been an unsuccessful year for the young Terrapins. Maryland has made six of the last seven NCAA tournaments and three Final Fours. Last week Maryland lost twice, once to ACC cellar-dweller Wake Forest and by eight points to sixth-place Georgia Tech. One of the year's few highlights was a Jan. 28 win over N.C. State which gave coach Chris Weller her 400th win.
But Duke knows that it cannot afford to overlook yet another opponent.
"Now we've put ourselves back in a tough situation and we need to come out and redeem ourselves a little bit," Goestenkors said.
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