Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lady Vols Can't Afford Letdown Vs. Duke

DURHAM, N.C. -- Top-ranked Tennessee can't afford a letdown against No. 2 Duke.

The Lady Vols are coming off an emotional effort Thursday against Vanderbilt that gave coach Pat Summitt her 900th career victory. Last season, the Blue Devils handed Tennessee a rare home loss.

Both teams are 18-0, but the Lady Vols will have to deal with the raucous environment at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday. North Carolina is the only other undefeated team (18-0) in the Top 25.

"We know it's going to be a pretty hostile environment, but our team has been exposed to that," Summitt said. "All the players that have played here understand that we go on the road."

Summitt and the Lady Vols lead the all-time series 4-3, including a road victory in 2004 that was the 38th and most recent No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. The Blue Devils began the season at the top of the poll before dropping a spot in early December.

The move came despite an impressive start by coach Gail Goestenkors' team, capped by an easy victory at then-No. 17 Texas. Perhaps that will give Duke a little extra motivation.

"We are looking to get into the No. 1 spot because that would mean we won the game," Duke leading scorer Monique Currie said. "Neither one of us wants to lose that position. It will be a fight out there, and whoever survives will win the game."

The one advantage the Blue Devils might have is depth, since they routinely go nine-deep. Currie and point guard Lindsey Harding are the only two players averaging at least 25 minutes, with everyone else getting at least 15.

There isn't much drop off when Coach G goes to the bench, either. Senior Jessica Foley and Wanisha Smith combined for 67 starts a year ago, yet have spent most of this season as reserves. Four players are scoring in double figures, with two more at nine points a game.

"I think their bench is probably a little more productive at this point in time than ours has been," Summitt said. "We've been very inconsistent there. That's where we have to be better in terms of matching their depth in being able to put up numbers off the bench."

Of course, Summitt has her own stars to depend on, and the biggest is 6-foot-3 freshman Candace Parker. She sat out last season while recovering from two knee surgeries, and so far, it appears she made the right choice.

She is Tennessee's second-leading scorer at 14.9 points per game and pulls down a team-best 8.4 rebounds. Parker shoots 55 percent from the field and can dunk.

She hasn't shown off her dunking skills in an official game yet. If she does, she would be only the fourth woman to dunk in a game.

"She's just a great all-around player," said Goestenkors, who recruited Parker. "If you try to double-team her, she's an exceptional passer out of the double-team, so she's going to find the open player and make her teammates better."

In short, that's exactly what Currie does for Duke.

"Monique is playing with a great deal of confidence," Summitt said. "She's shooting the ball extremely well, getting to the free throw line, playing aggressive and rebounding the ball. I don't see a weakness in her game."

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