Duke looking to pull off upset against Notre Dame

The best phrase Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie to describe doing

the unexpected is ”the tingle.”

McCallie has experienced it before.

Now, she’s hoping to experience ”the tingle” again when the

Blue Devils take on top-seeded Notre Dame in the final of the

Norfolk Regional on Tuesday night. McCallie and her players know

the Fighting Irish are expected to win.

”You don’t really have to be an underdog to get `the tingle.”’

McCallie said Monday, adding that she’s experienced it a few times

in her career. The most notable instances were when her 10th-seeded

Maine team beat No. 7 seed Stanford in 1999, and again when her

top-seeded Michigan State team rallied from 16 down in the final 7

minutes to beat overall No. 1 Tennessee in 2005.

The tingle, McCallie said, is ”when your team really goes out

there and just totally expresses their power and who they are from

start to finish on both sides of the ball, that does just


Duke (33-2) might need to do all of that to keep the game close

against Notre Dame, which has won 29 straight and features

All-American senior point guard Skylar Diggins, one of the game’s

most dynamic players.

Duke had an All-American too, Chelsea Gray, but the point guard

suffered a dislocated right kneecap 10 games ago, and her absence

has been evident in the tournament, especially on offense.

After scoring more than 75 points a game during the regular

season, Duke is averaging less than 62 through three tournament

contests, two of which were played on its home floor. In Sunday’s

victory against sixth-seeded Nebraska, the Blue Devils shot 32.8

percent and relied heavily on their defense in a 53-45 victory.

But being expected to lose could work to Duke’s advantage, guard

Tricia Liston said.

”I think that gives us a little bit of an edge because we

really have nothing to lose in this game and there’s no pressure on

us and nobody thinks we can do this besides ourselves,” she said,

”and so I think it can be a source of motivation for us to prove

it to ourselves and prove that we belong here.”

The Blue Devils proved that long ago and will be playing it

their 11th regional final in 16 years. The problem has been going

farther, something they’ve managed just four times, and not since


Notre Dame has no such issues. The Fighting Irish have played in

the last two national championship games, losing to Texas A&M

in 2011 and Baylor last season, and now face Diggins’ last


Diggins, who scored 22 of her 27 points by halftime as the

Fighting Irish beat Kansas 93-63 on Sunday and became the program’s

career scoring leader with her last basket, said she’s careful not

to look too far ahead, but can’t help but thinking about a

storybook finish to her career.

”It would mean a lot. It would mean a lot, and I can’t say

that’s something that’s not in my mind all the time thinking about

my last game possibly here and how, whether I like it, the most I

have left is three games,” she said. ”… We can’t get to that

point if we don’t take care of business here, so I try not to look

forward too much but instead to focus on the task at hand, and

right now, that’s Duke.”

She’s not the only one who envisions that net-cutting finish at

the Final Four in New Orleans.

”I want it for her. I want it bad,” coach Muffet McGraw, whose

team won the 2001 title, said. ”I think she has been such a

phenomenal presence in our program, legendary. I don’t think what

she’s done is ever going to be matched and I would love to see her

go out a champion and whether we win or lose, I think she will go

out as a champion, but I think it will be great for her to be able

to cut down the nets.”

First, the Fighting Irish have to prevent Duke from slowing

things down and making it a possession game, instead using their

own defense to create running opportunities that free Diggins up to

get creative and find her own chances.

”I think we’re pretty confident where we are right now and how

we’ve played all season,” McGraw, in her 26th season, said. ”I

think our resume, the experience we’ve had on the road and at home,

the caliber of opponent I think we’ve beaten, I think gives us

great confidence and I hope that serves us well.”

Having an early night Sunday allowed the Blue Devils to watch

Louisville stun top-seeded Baylor, and in their unusual role as an

underdog, forward Haley Peters said watching the game was a good


”It was just an example of a team believing in itself and not

listening to what other people had to say about the other team and

focusing on themselves and just really having a great resolve and

believing in themselves,” she said. ”I mean, that’s why this

tournament’s so great – because of games like that.”

The Blue Devils hope to add to that greatness on Tuesday


Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr