COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The Blue Devils found themselves in a hole-down by a point and forced to inbound the ball underneath their own goal with a precious few ticks left on the clock.
Last time she was in this situation, women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors found an unlikely hero to stun a hostile North Carolina crowd in 1996 when then-freshman Hilary Howard sank a game-winning 12-foot jumper after taking the ball the length of the court.
Apparently, Goestenkors felt what worked once had to work again.
Friday night against an unranked Maryland squad, Duke looked up at a 54-53 deficit with 5.3 seconds remaining. Goestenkors gathered her troops and decided to hand the game to...Lauren Rice.
What transpired on the final sequence resembled nothing of the methodical, clean basketball the women's team has played of late. Rice received the inbounds pass and took a couple of awkward dribbles before almost throwing the ball away trying to hit Howard. The junior guard made a nice play just to keep the ball inbounds and away from her defender.
After drawing the double team, Howard flipped a pass back to Rice. The sophomore forward's heave from 25 feet away came closer to taking out the row of photographers on the baseline then it did to drawing iron.
"She was supposed to hit Nicole [Erickson] or Hilary Howard flying down the sideline," Goestenkors said. "She hit Hilary, and they double-teamed her, which was smart. Lauren was wide open, so Hilary threw it back to Lauren, who can hit the three-point shot for us. She just didn't. It was a tough situation for her to be in because she hadn't played a whole lot."
Perhaps Goestenkors didn't realize that Rice had attempted 22 shots from behind the three-point line entering the game-and connected on only six of those-good for an unimpressive 27.3 percent.
Howard, an obvious candidate to take the final shot, has been on a tear in recent days, earning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week honors for her trio of sensational performances last week. Friday night, Howard was 6-of-9 from the floor and had drained her only three-point attempt.
By comparison, Rice had gone from the team's top reserve early in the season to being almost buried on the bench in ACC games. In those contests, Rice has shot an anemic 1-of-8 from three-point distance.
Even if Howard was guaranteed to draw a double team on the last play, Goestenkors could have easily handed the ball to Erickson, one of the better one-on-one players and the best pure shooter on this team.
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Or how about even lobbing the ball inside to 6-foot-6 Michelle VanGorp, a play that Goestenkors said the team had prepared in the pre-season for a situation like this.
In the past, Goestenkors has found success numerous times by finding an unusual combination which ends up running surprisingly smoothly. This time, however, the roll of the dice turned up craps.
Victor Zhao is an engineering sophomore and assistant sports editor of The Chronicle.