Road beckons for Final Four-minded Blue Devil women
There’s no place like home, unless you’re a member of a basketball team that is participating in the NCAA Tournament.
The Duke women’s basketball team enjoyed their first- and second-round games at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but now they’re anxious to hit the road.
“We’re excited to get out of town,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said Friday shortly before the team left for Norfolk, Va., where the Blue Devils face Nebraska on Sunday in the regional semifinals (2:30 p.m., ESPN2). “It seems like we’ve been in Durham too long. It’s time to leave.”
It’s not that they didn’t enjoy the benefits of having fans cheer them on in wins over Hampton (67-51) and Oklahoma State (68-59) in the first two rounds. It’s just that it has been three weeks since the team was in Greensboro for the ACC Tournament, and part of the excitement of postseason competition is the travel.
“We’ve had many a road trip, and it’s just a great time to get on the bus,” McCallie said. “Road trips are kind of fun. This one is really fun because it’s not that long.
“We had a hard time being at home relative to going to class, all the distractions. I think it’s harder to be at home, ... because the other teams are just kind of hanging out. So it’ll be nice to go to Norfolk and get a chance to hang out.”
With Norfolk less than a four-hour drive, the Blue Devils hope to see familiar faces at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on Sunday when they face the Cornhuskers in the inaugural meeting between the programs.
“I think it’ll be fun; I think we’ll have a good time,” sophomore center Elizabeth Williams. “I think a lot of the Duke fans will be able to travel since it’s not too far.”
She should know, since her hometown of Virginia Beach is just a few miles away. The team planned to have dinner at her house Friday night before focusing on game preparation.
“I think that’s a cool experience,” Williams said of hosting her teammates. “Not a lot of people get to do that, especially during the tournament. So I hope we make the most of it and everyone enjoys it.
“I think it’s great that the team gets to meet my family and some of the local people that are around.”
The Blue Devils also dined at the home of senior Allison Vernerey this past summer when the team played exhibition games in France.
“That’s part of what makes us so close is being able to get ... to see their homes, get to see what they do,” Duke junior guard Tricia Liston said. “Back where ‘E’ comes from, we’ve never been there. She’s happy to have us, and to be with her family in her home is going to be special.”
This will be Duke’s third trip to Norfolk for the NCAA Tournament, with mixed results in the past. The Blue Devils lost to Minnesota 82-77 in the 2004 regional final in the final game for Alana Beard and Iciss Tillis, but they advanced through the first two rounds in 2006 on their way to the Final Four in Boston.
“As we’ve learned in the past, tournament time is only one game,” Liston said. “You can only focus on one because you have the chance of not even making it to the next. ... You don’t look ahead anymore.
“You have to focus game by game and earn (your) next 40 minutes.”
The Blue Devils trailed for most of their 68-59 win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday but put away the Cowgirls at the free throw line in the closing minutes.
“In the first half, I think everyone was trying a little too hard to get Elizabeth to Norfolk,” McCallie said. “(There were) a lot of forced shots and turnovers and things like that. They’re still a young team, being led by a freshman point guard. ...
“At halftime, we had to discard that and just go back to playing Duke basketball.”
Of course, the Blue Devils aren’t heading to the Tidewater area on vacation. They’ve done their homework on the Cornhuskers, as well.
“They have a lot of great shooters — one through five can shoot the ball,” Liston said. “They run a lot of motion offense. I think a big thing for us is going to be communication on defense and being able to get our stops, but also being able to close out to the shooters under control and make them put it on the floor a little more.
“In the tournament, there’s always high intensity. As the tournament goes on, there’s ... better competition. But I think in the end, it comes down to the determination of a team and the fight of a team.”