When I first found out I'd be writing a sports column this year, I promised myself I wouldn't become "that girl"-you know, the raging feminist writer who waves Title IX, sports bras and lip gloss in your face when all you want to read is another unqualified opinion on why the football team struggles or how the men's basketball team should be run.
But in case you've missed it, Cameron Indoor Stadium is home to the No. 1 team in the country-the women's team-and I (regardless of my gender) would be remiss not to use this space to give the top team in the country its due and to ask you to do the same.
Just imagine for a second that you are an elite college basketball coach who goes by a nickname consisting of one letter. You're coming off a season that ended with a heartbreaking loss keeping you from the National Championship, you lose your top-two scorers-your seasoned seniors-to the pros, and now you've entered this season with a lot of holes to be filled by freshmen or sophomores and are under immense pressure to win.
If you were imagining yourself as Mike Krzyzewski, stop. The coach I'm referring to is Gail Goestenkors, Coach G.
It would be unfair to continue to portray the men's and women's team as being in completely identical situations. It goes without saying that the women's team is undefeated and just upset the former No. 1 team in the country, conference-rival Maryland (yes, I'm sorry to say, a team is your rival if it beat you out in overtime for the National Championship).
Goestenkors takes her team into each game with a big advantage-OK, maybe one big one and another really, really big one-Lindsey Harding and Alison Bales.
Harding, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, has has improved her game immensely between this season and last and is the spark for this team on both sides of the ball. She's averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. The senior captain has become a leader, both in voice and through her play, which has become explosive.
It seems to me, that if a writer fails to attach the modifier "6-foot-7" to 6-foot-7 Alison Bales' name, he or she has failed to live up to the standards of journalistic integrity. Since last March, however, when Bales emerged as a player on the national stage, she has become so much more than just 6-foot-7. She consistently shows up for the big games. Against the Terrapins last Saturday, Bales put up 18 points, pulled down 12 rebounds and swatted away seven shots. That was against the "best" team in the country. That was almost a triple-double, folks.
"We knew our players had to adjust to new roles,'' Goestenkors said after this week's rankings were released. "Our role players had to become go-to players. I'm impressed how quickly they've adjusted to their new roles and embraced their new roles."
The Blue Devils have adjusted, alright. And it shouldn't be surprising.
Over the past five years, Duke has been ranked No.1 in the Associated Press poll for a total of 26 weeks. The Blue Devils also have been in the top seven of the AP poll for 44 straight weeks-12 weeks longer than second-place North Carolina, 20 weeks longer than Maryland and almost 30 more weeks more than Tennessee.
So, basically, what I'm trying to say is that this team is good. Really good. National Championship good. And we should treat these Blue Devils like the serious contenders that they are.
Last year, when Dukies believed J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams were going to take their team to the Promised Land, they jumped onto a train that magically appeared behind Cameron. They jumped into tents. They jumped on the bleachers in Cameron.
Last Saturday's Maryland game may have been a sell-out, but many of the student section seats were sold to non-students.
You can bet this team's national title hopes that if the men's team were No. 3 in the nation taking on a top-ranked Terps squad, not only would that game have been a tenting game, but the fire marshall would have gotten a nervous twitch from the sheer volume of Crazies they would have packed into the bleachers.
A national title contender deserves so much better than what it's getting right now. Duke fans are supposed to be the best in the country.
Connecticut's women's team consistently sells out two different 10,000-plus seat stadiums. And I think Jim Calhoun would take offense if anyone were to claim that the Lady Huskies are the only game in town.
There are two great basketball programs at Duke. It's time for fans to start acting like it.
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