CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — With about a minute remaining Monday night against LSU, Monique Currie had the ball in her hands as her team’s Final Four chances were on the line.
Currie moved to the three-point line and froze. She pivoted desperately but was unable to come up with a play to help the Blue Devils cut into a six-point deficit.
Currie lost her dribble, and her second-seeded team lost its matchup with No. 1 seed LSU, 59-49, in the Chattanooga Regional Final.
“[LSU] did what they needed to do to win. They played tough defense and rebounded the basketball,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “They outrebounded us by 15 in the second half and that was the difference in the game.”
The Blue Devils (31-5) came out strong against the Tigers (33-2), holding the lead for most of opening 20 minutes. LSU would take the lead 15 seconds into the second half, and Duke held the lead for a total of just 38 seconds after the break.
Seimone Augustus, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional, scored a game-high 24 points, including 12 in the second half. Down the stretch, Augustus routinely served up key plays for the Tigers.
With 30 seconds to go and Duke down by seven, the unanimous All-American selection grabbed a rebound off an LSU miss from the line, giving her team a pivotal extra possession. Augustus then extended her team’s lead on two successful shots from the line, diminishing the Blue Devils’ hopes for a comeback.
The Blue Devils’ own All-American, Currie, rarely took comfortable shots as most of her attempts came in the form of off-balance looks from the perimeter.
With 53 seconds remaining, Currie stole the ball and missed a jumper at the other end, landing on the floor. Augustus lent a hand to the fallen Blue Devil and patted her on the back as the pair ran down the court for a LSU possession.
“I think we did an excellent job in the first half, not as much in the last five minutes of the game,” Currie said. “In the second half, we just got a little over-rotated. They were getting a lot of easy baskets in the second half. They took advantage of that.”
Currie has one more year of eligibility but has not decided whether she will return. After Monday night’s game she said that not winning a national championship will factor into her decision.
Duke did not miss Currie’s offense much early as its dominant low-post offense and tough defensive pressure established an early lead, which the Blue Devils maintained for most of the first half.
Under the basket, Mistie Williams secured strong positioning, leading the team with four first-half defensive rebounds and 13 first-half points, most coming on layups following passes from the top of the key. Williams was a perfect 7-for-7 on the night but did not score in the last 18 minutes.
The Tigers made a mental defensive adjustment in the second half, “cleaning up,” LSU head coach Pokey Chapman said. The shift stunted the Blue Devils’ offense, particularly passing access to Williams.
“They just really started fronting me, and then if I happened to push them up the lane, you had Sylvia Fowles ready to double me,” Williams said. “We just didn’t make the adjustments early enough.”
Sylvia Fowles, standing at 6-foot-5, provided a challenge for Williams, Alison Bales and Chante Black, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds, eight of which came on the defensive end.
In the second half, the Tigers overwhelmed Duke, shutting down their offense and driving through the defense that had been so effective through the first 20 minutes of play. LSU fought back on a four-minute 12-2 run at the end of the first half and carried its momentum into the second half.
Bales and Williams tried to gain position underneath, but four fouls hindered each player’s efforts, which shortened the Duke bench for much of the second half.
After shooting 52.2 percent in the first half, the Blue Devils could only make a quarter of their shots fall after the break. Without Bales and Williams, many of those shots came from long range, where Duke looked considerably less comfortable.
“I thought we were in great position. We were playing excellent defense, and we had the tempo we wanted,” Goestenkors said. “I think fatigue was a factor. We need our rotation.”
To Goestenkors, this year’s achievements were remarkable for a team that faced much adversity in the form of injuries, suspensions and graduated stars. But after the team’s final game, the head coach was frustrated with how the loss came down to rebounding and turnovers.
The Tigers outrebounded Goestenkors’ squad by 15, after the teams each had 14 boards in the first half. LSU scored 17 points to Duke’s six off turnovers.
“What’s disappointing is that I think the game came down to things that we could have controlled,” Goestenkors said.
No. 7 seed North Carolina fell to Baylor in the other regional final Monday.... LSU will take on Baylor in the Final Four.... Duke’s 19 points in the second half were a season low.
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