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Blue Devils primed for postseason stretch

After its 10-point win against Maryland at home Feb. 13, Duke went back to its locker room to greet what sat on the sideline for the entire game-the National Championship trophy.

Senior Monique Currie and the rest of the Blue Devils gathered around the $30,000 crystal basketball, which head coach Gail Goestenkors had brought into the locker room after the game. The trophy was present at approximately six sites this season, including many nationally-televised games like Duke's matchup with Maryland.

Now entering postseason play, the No. 2 Blue Devils are hoping to get their hands on the trophy again-this time, for keeps.

"I'd never seen it so close like that, being able to touch it," Currie said. "But I think it was definitely cool to actually put your hands on something you're trying to reach because we know the national championship is the whole big picture, the idea. But to actually see the actual trophy that you'll receive, I think it was cool."

Before NCAA Tournament play even begins, though, the Blue Devils (25-2, 12-2 in the ACC) will concentrate on winning their sixth ACC championship.

"It's all our focus is right now, the ACC Tournament and trying to win three games," Goestenkors said.

The only two games the Blue Devils have lost this season came at the hands of North Carolina, which snatched the regular-season ACC title away from Duke. It was the first time in five years that the Blue Devils failed to either win or share the regular-season championship.

Duke could potentially see the top-ranked Tar Heels-winners of their last five against the Blue Devils-again in ACC Tournament play, should the two advance to Sunday's 1 p.m. final.

The Tar Heels (26-1, 13-1) won the title last year when they defeated Duke in the finals, 88-67, ending the Blue Devils' five-year run as conference tournament champions.

Goestenkors said the team has learned from its bouts with UNC. The Blue Devils spent extensive time in practice this week watching tape of the Feb. 25 loss, talking about the game and working on specific areas of improvement in practice.

"I'm really comfortable where we are right now and I think we, despite our two losses, that we still have a bright future and we still have a lot of season left to play," Currie said. "I think we've prepared ourselves for anything that gets thrown at us. It's just a matter of us going out there and doing it."

In last year's NCAA tournament, Duke, which was hampered by a shallow roster and numerous injuries to key players, lost in the Elite 8 to LSU. Currie, Jessica Foley and Alison Bales all played with injuries during the run, even though they could not even participate in practice.

"I think this year we feel more a sense of purpose," Goestenkors said. "Last year we only had eight players. Everything we did was, I don't want to say people were surprised, but-to a degree-they were. We still had high expectations, but we had the eight players and we also had the injuries."

This year's Blue Devils boast a deeper squad that has had a strong rotation off the bench and starters like the All-American Currie playing fewer minutes per game. Duke also has a senior class in Currie, Foley and Mistie Williams that has the experience to lead the team.

"We're older, we're wiser, we're deeper and we're more talented, so I think we feel like we want to be really successful and we want to send the senior class out [with a title]," Goestenkors said. "We only lost one senior last year-Wynter Whitley, who wasn't a starter-so this year we know we're losing three great seniors who have really put their hearts and souls on the line for this program and I think we're all really committed to send them out in a great way."

Second-seeded Duke will play its first ACC tournament game Friday against seventh-seeded Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum.

"We're really excited about heading to Greensboro," Goestenkors said. "Other than Cameron it's probably been our favorite place to play. We know the fans do such a tremendous job and the community just gets so involved in the tournament. It's just a wonderful atmosphere, one that we always cherish."

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