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Tenn.-Martin-Duke Preview

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Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas have Duke once again starting the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed on its home floor.

The seniors hope this time to walk away with the program's first national title, a quest they'll begin Saturday against first-time participant Tennessee-Martin.

The Blue Devils' trio originally committed to play for Gail Goestenkors, and kept that promise even after she left for Texas. The school then hired Joanne P. McCallie, who led Michigan State to the 2005 national championship game.

McCallie has yet to return to the Final Four with Duke, but finished one win short in 2010 - falling by three points to Baylor in the Memphis Regional finals.

With their seniors leading the way, the sixth-ranked Blue Devils enter this tournament after posting their best record under McCallie (29-3) and with a second straight ACC tournament title after beating rival North Carolina 81-66 on March 6.

The Blue Devils are ready to hit the court again.

"We're just really excited to play," McCallie told the school's website. "As you all know, it's been a while since we've played and I think there were some great, great lessons from the ACC tournament, from all the games really. We've been working on some things that we need to do to get better."

Duke suffered all its losses over a six-game stretch from Jan. 31-Feb. 17, but come in having won six in a row by an average of more than 22 points per game.

The Blue Devils have received balanced scoring this season with Jasmine Thomas the only player averaging in double figures (14.8 ppg). Christmas, Krystal Thomas and freshman guard Chelsea Gray are each contributing at least eight points per contest, and three more players are chipping in at least six points per outing.

Krystal Thomas was the ACC's second-leading rebounder at 8.7 per game, while Christmas averaged 6.3. They also helped the Blue Devils give up a conference-low 54.8 points per game.

"(The seniors) do it all," McCallie said. "You don't have to sell them on what we do. You know, they've got it. And philosophically, they walk the walk. They talk the talk and walk the walk."

McCallie's squad will try to put those lessons into action against the 15th-seeded Skyhawks (21-10), the alma mater of Tennessee's legendary coach Pat Summitt.

With star freshmen Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome leading the way, Tennessee-Martin upset regular season champ Tennessee Tech 82-76 on March 5 in the Ohio Valley tournament championship.

Butler, averaging a team-best 19.1 points, scored 21 and Newsome (17.8 ppg) had a team-best 24.

"I knew all year we were special talent-wise," said senior Alecia Weatherly. "I had a gut feeling that if we could get rolling, we could win the whole thing."

The winner of Saturday's game will face Iowa State or Marist on Monday in Durham.

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