After Duke lost to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament semifinals Saturday, head coach Gail Goestenkors wrote two phrases on the team's whiteboard.
The first was a new objective. The second was a mantra the Blue Devils had held in their minds all season.
"First loss, last loss," Goestenkors wrote. And then, "What is delayed is not denied."
Saturday's upset was the first loss of the season for No. 1 Duke (30-1), which had its eyes set on the conference title. But with the NCAA Tournament looming, the Blue Devils are now focused on making an undefeated run in the postseason to earn the program's first national championship-something that slipped through their fingers in the title game just one year ago.
"Any loss is tough to take, especially when we wanted to win the ACC Tournament," Goestenkors said. "We were very disappointed. At the same time, we used it as we would use any loss, as we used the loss at the end of last year-used it as motivation to get better."
Duke's two new maxims embody its most significant sources of motivation for the remainder of its season-its two most recent losses. Each is meant to make the upcoming challenges in the NCAA Tournament less intimidating for Duke.
"We've already gone 30-and-0, which is five times what we need to do in this new season, which is go 6-and-0," senior captain Alison Bales said. "Coach G kind of gets your attention, breaks it down, makes it a more step-by-step kind of goal. 'What is delayed is not denied' was probably one of the first things she said to us during preseason. It's a good thing to kind of focus on, because I think all of us were kind of pretty disappointed with the end of our season last year."
Goestenkors said when she returned to campus last April after the Blue Devils' overtime loss to Marlyand in the 2006 NCAA championship game, the motto-which was relayed to her by N.C. State head coach Kay Yow-helped her to understand that Duke's campaign for its first national championship was not over. Although the Blue Devils delivered the program's first undefeated regular season and an eight-week stretch with a top ranking this year, a national title still remains their ultimate goal.
"It's on our playbooks and everything, along with 'Cleveland' because it's our goal to get to Cleveland," Goestenkors said. "We hadn't talked about it before, but we're going into the NCAA Tournament now, so now we're talking about it again."
Duke retained its No. 1 ranking despite its loss and will almost certainly receive a top seed in the Tournament. Goestenkors said, however, that her team is working hard in practice to prepare rather than worrying about its NCAA seed.
"It doesn't matter. We've never focused on the rankings, or the records, so it really doesn't matter to us if we're ranked first or 10th," she said. "As long as we're in the top 64, that's all we need right now."
During its two-week break without a game before the Tournament, Duke will be focusing on improving its defensive basics and keeping the intensity high on the court.
"We're ready to get back to playing," Bales said. "Especially when you don't win your conference tournament, you want to get back out there."
After four days of hard practices, the Blue Devils will take some time off to relax before the NCAA selection show Monday when they will find out who they will play in the first round.
"We know what it takes to get there," Bales said. "We know what it takes in practice and in games. Knowing that we got as close as we could last year without winning, I think that this year we'll really be focused and ready. I think we will be ready."
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