GREENSBORO -- Four championships, four pullups.
After her team put away North Carolina with a dominant second half performance Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors celebrated in style, lifting herself four times over the rim. She also held aloft four fingers, symbolizing four-straight ACC championships for the women's basketball team -- an unprecedented feat.
"Every year you want to do something special," she said. "For our team to have something to hold on to, to have their own place in history, is something really special."
Goestenkors wasn't alone in flexing her muscles Monday night. Her players, especially Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis delivered powerful performances of their own, as the Blue Devils overcame an early 10-point deficit to handle the Tar Heels 77-59 Monday night en route to winning the 2003 ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
After being shut out in the first half, Tillis scored 21 points in the second, including 16 in the opening 13 minutes, helping Duke seize a nine-point lead, which North Carolina could never come back from. The 6-foot-4 junior also pulled down 10 rebounds, an effort that earned her tournament MVP honors.
Tillis' award follows injured teammate Monique Currie's feat at the 2002 tournament. According to Beard, a consensus First Team All-American, proper recognition for her teammates is long overdue.
"A lot of people have been saying that I've had to carry the team," she said. "Obviously I don't have to do it. My teammates can step up at any time. It's great to show doubters that it's not just me."
Beard registered 16 points on a 5-of-17 shooting night, but more astonishing was the 20 rebounds she grabbed, including 10 on the offensive end.
"I'm very proud," said Currie, who has missed the entire season with a torn ACL. "I knew we could do it even when I went out. We were still a great team. We still had great players, and I knew we could go all the way."
Duke entered the break down 31-25, but the margin was only that close thanks to a last second, 6-0 spurt. Senior Sheana Mosch began with a pair of fast break layups, and Beard added a jumper to cut into North Carolina's double-digit edge.
However, during most of the first half, Duke looked anything but sure to repeat as tournament champions. The Tar Heels employed a hybrid offense, which confused the Blue Devils. Duke also looked flustered at the UNC's physical style of play, as both teams hit the floor hard during the intensely fought first half.
"I think at one point in the first half a couple of players got caught up in what they were doing, and that had an impact on what we were doing [as a team]," Beard said.
The Blue Devils started the second period with a 13-2 run, transforming a six-point deficit into a five-point lead. Minutes later, Duke rode Tillis' hot hand to ignite for an 8-0 spurt, after which it led 53-44.
Clearly, the Blue Devils had regrouped.
"We definitely want to be known as a smart team," Mosch said. "I think we have incredible athleticism, but what I think really separates us from other teams in the ACC and around the country is that we're very smart."
North Carolina could never recover, and grew frustrated with its inability to catch Duke. Down nine with five minutes left, UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell drew a technical foul for arguing with an official, but her anger might have been just a reaction to her team's poor play.
The Tar Heels missed several shots from close in, turned the ball over 22 times and allowed the Blue Devils 21 offensive rebounds.
"If we could have rebounded and made some layups we would have won the game," said North Carolina freshman La'Tangela Atkinson, who guarded Beard for much of the contest. "That's the bottom line."
In the aftermath, the Blue Devils basked in winning four-straight ACC titles; however, the trophies and awards where held for pictures and then quickly taken away.
The same laissez-fair attitude applied to the net, which Duke certainly cut down in style. Sophomore Wynter Whitley obliged the crowd with her "happy dance" tribute to the film Dumb and Dumber, and then Goestenkors delighted her team with the quartet of pullups.
There was a clear message: The Blue Devils have done this enough that the trinkets and souvenirs mean comparatively little. The big celebration, they hope, will be in Atlanta in a few weeks.
"I feel like we're on the verge of being a dynasty," Tillis. "All we have to do is complete the puzzle and win the national championship."
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