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Currie keeps Duke afloat in ACC

RALEIGH — Duke has been advertising Monique Currie as a Player-of-the-Year candidate all season, and Currie has shown she deserves that accolade during the past three games.

While the rest of the Blue Devils have struggled in a tough stretch of games against ranked ACC opponents, Currie has picked up the slack, especially in the most crucial situations.

With the game tied against N.C. State Sunday, Currie banked in a jump-shot as part of a three-point play that put Duke ahead for good in the final minute. Tied with Maryland Thursday, Currie’s final-minute jump shot also lifted the Blue Devils to victory.

Currie led Duke’s furious attempt to rally back against North Carolina last Monday, a game the Blue Devils ultimately lost. The co-captain scored 17 points in a crucial five-minute stretch that brought the lethargic Blue Devils back in a game that previously did not look close. Currie did miss a short shot in the lane on a late possession, but Duke would not have even been in the game without her determined play.

“In tough situations [the other players] know that Monique can come through for us,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said.

Only special players like Currie can deal with the pressure and expectations of taking the most important shots—almost every game. Currie has an assured mentality, but is also quick to remember the other Blue Devils.

“When my teammates set good screens we get open shots,” Currie said. “I’m pretty confident I can knock it down if I get a good look at the basket.”

Currie is averaging 22 points and nine rebounds during the past three games. Her team’s point totals in those three games have been a meager 51, 60 and 52, respectively.

The other usual scoring threats for Duke played poorly the past week. Freshman Wanisha Smith had a relatively good game against Maryland but was pulled in the second half against North Carolina and was held scoreless here Sunday.

Because of Smith’s turnovers—she had 15 over the three-game stretch—Currie has been asked to fulfill some ball-handling duties that are not a the strength of her game.

The suspension of Lindsey Harding left the Blue Devils thin at point guard, and Goestenkors experimented with Jessica Foley and Currie there early this season. Currie has shown that she has the talent to play out of position at times and still dominate a game.

The Blue Devils were plagued by poor outside shooting this week. Duke’s best three-point threat, Foley, has been dogged by opposing defenders and has been unable to find open looks at the hoop. She had only three points Sunday, partially because foul trouble has limited her playing time.

“Every team and every individual goes through a series of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, throughout the season,” Goestenkors said. “You go through lulls where it is very difficult and it doesn’t seem like the team is in sync, and I think we’re in one of those periods right now.”

For Duke to go far in post-season play, the rest of the team must help Currie. She is playing too many minutes right now and has often looked fatigued at points in the second halves of games.

Smith and Foley are the keys to relieving Currie’s burden. If Smith can control the point and Foley can find her shot again, Currie will be able to return to her familiar slashing-wing position.

Great players are often asked to carry a heavy load when the team needs them. Currie has shown this past week that she is indeed a great player—perhaps the best in the country—because of her ability to adapt to different situations and continue to thrive.

After her performance this week, though, Duke should expect opposing defenses to concentrate even more energy on the junior. The onus will be on Currie to know when to rely on improved play from her teammates and when to take control.

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