BOSTON - It's on to the National Championship game for the Blue Devils, and their biggest roadblock the past two seasons-North Carolina-will not be there waiting to stop the drive for Duke's first title in program history.
The Blue Devils (31-3) rode a dominating defensive effort to a 64-45 victory over LSU (31-4) in the national semifinals Sunday night at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. With the win, the Blue Devils advance to play Maryland Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. in the NCAA Title game. The Terrapins beat No. 1 overall seed North Carolina in the doubleheader's opener, 81-70.
Duke shut down LSU's dynamic inside-outside tandem of Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles, holding the duo to five points in the first half and just 22 in the game. The Blue Devils' offense was never spectacular, but 64 points got the job done on a night when LSU could rarely find the bottom of the basket.
"I can't say enough about my team and specifically the effort they put forth on the defensive end," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "LSU is an exceptional team, and I thought that this was one of our best defensive efforts of the year."
Duke went into halftime up 26-15, after holding Augustus, a first-team All-American, scoreless during the period. The Blue Devils did not let up after the break, as they nudged the lead up to 15 with two straight Mistie Williams buckets to open the second half.
But in the final game of her illustrious career, Augustus did not let her team get bounced from the Final Four without a fight. The senior scored seven points during an 11-5 LSU run that closed Duke's lead to six at 37-31 with 12 minutes to go.
With the outcome of the game appearing to be in question for the first time since the very beginning of the first half, Duke regained its form and made sure to erase any doubt quickly. Over the next four and a half minutes, the Blue Devils scored 13 points while holding the Tigers to just one.
Lindsey Harding, Monique Currie and Jessica Foley all scored on acrobatic drives down the lane and Williams, who led Duke with 14 points, added her final field goal of the game on a fast break when Wanisha Smith pilfered the ball from a frustrated Augustus.
The margin would never get closer than 14 after the run. After the game, Duke celebrated a successful execution of its game plan and the team's first trip to the National Championship game since 1999.
"We got a job, Coach G trusted us to get the defensive job done and there wasn't one letdown on the team," Williams said. "We worked so hard throughout the season on our defense because we were so offensive-minded at the beginning of the year. And as the season went on we knew that defense was going to help us win games toward the end of the season."
The Blue Devils raced out to an 18-4 lead 10 minutes into the first half, barely allowing Augustus to touch the ball and doubling inside whenever the Tigers posted up Fowles. Harding and Smith took turns denying the ball from Augustus, and a combination of Williams, Bales and Chante Black hounded Fowles inside.
"We knew to be successful we had to shut Seimone and Sylvia down," Williams said.
Alternating between zone and man-to-man, Duke forced LSU out of its normal game and exposed the Tigers' inability to shoot from the outside. Whenever any Tiger drove, she was met by Bales, who finished with six blocks and forced many more misses.
LSU's 15 first-half points set a record-low for scoring in a women's Final Four game. The Tigers shot just 29 percent in the game, and they did not hit a shot from outside the lane until Florence Williams knocked down a 15-footer 11 minutes into the contest.
Duke's offense was efficient enough to assure victory. Harding guided a balanced attack in which no Blue Devil scored more than Williams' 14. Currie, Harding and freshman Abby Waner joined Williams in double figures.
The Blue Devils now turn their focus to Maryland, which Duke defeated twice during the regular season but lost to in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. With 14 seconds left in the first game, Maryland and Duke fans rose simultaneously to give the Terrapins a standing ovation.
The Blue Devil faithful, of course, were responding to the ousting of Ivory Latta and North Carolina, a team Duke has had no answer for in five straight losses over the past two seasons. Goestenkors said her team was busy preparing for its own national semifinal game while Maryland was closing out its victory. But the Blue Devils are fully aware that the path to the program's first National Championship will now go through Brenda Frese's young squad instead of the Tar Heels.
Even though it will not have to go through North Carolina, the team said its accomplishment is not any less sweet.
"It seems like we have been getting over humps all season," Bales said. "First it was the regionals and then it was the regional finals and now we are in the Championship game. It feels great. This is a great team and a great team to be going to the championship with."
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