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Number crunch reminiscent of '02 Final Four team

Eight was enough.

This year’s Blue Devils are hoping that rally cry from the 2001-2002 Final Four team will apply to their postseason as well.

These two teams, separated by two seasons and one win, share striking similarities.

Both teams finished the regular season with just three losses and a top-five ranking in the AP Poll. Both teams had only eight players on the roster with Monique Currie as a starter and Wynter Whitley a key contributor off the bench.

But the resemblance stops there.

“That team was a totally different team,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “We were very, very athletic, but we had no post game. Now we’ve got much better size at 6-foot-7 [Alison Bales] and 6-foot-5 [Chante Black], and just a better inside-outside attack. But we don’t have that ability to break teams down with our pressure on the ball.”

With athletic guards Alana Beard, Vicki Krapohl, Sheana Mosch and Currie, Duke was able to beat its opponents with outside shooting. Additionally, its strong pressure on opposing guards led to steals and fast-break scoring for the Blue Devils.

Iciss Tillis was the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-4, and though she would later become an inside presence for Duke, she was hesitant to play in the post during her sophomore season.

This left 6-foot-1 Michele Matyasovsky as the only inside threat on offense. The center had very few opportunities to score with no help on the inside, finishing the season with only 6.6 points per game.

“I think my freshman year team was a lot more athletic and could run more on the fast break and get steals,” Currie said.

This year’s team does not feature a guard with the talent of Beard. Currie has shifted to the forward position and, with new additions, Duke has transformed into a dominating post team.

Aside from Bales and Black in the post, Duke has often passed to Mistie Williams down low. The junior forward has been the most consistent scorer in the paint for the Blue Devils this season.

Although Duke’s current guards do not share the talent of their 2001-2002 counterparts, Jessica Foley has emerged as a threat from three-point range, and freshman Wanisha Smith has filled in at point guard valiantly after Lindsey Harding was suspended prior to the season’s start. This team’s guards rely heavily on the post players to draw attention from defenders for open looks, in stark contrast to Beard’s team, which simply beat its opponents from the perimeter.

On the defensive end, Duke has become a rebounding and shot-blocking nightmare for opponents, whereas the 2001-2002 team used its athleticism to keep the ball on the perimeter and force opponent turnovers.

That team blocked a then-impressive 104 shots during the regular season, but this year’s squad has crushed that figure in deflecting away 229 shots. Bales alone has tallied more blocks than the entire 2001-2002 team with her 112 rejections.

The current Blue Devils will look to their own strengths as they hope to extend the team’s ACC Tournament championship streak to six and win the national title that eluded the 2001-2002 team.

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