Eagles keep it close in tourney loss

DURHAM, N.C. — During halftime of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament game between Marquette and Duke, the public address announcer at Cameron Indoor Stadium informed the crowd Connecticut guard Diana Taurasi was selected as the 2004 Naismith National Player of the Year.

That announcement didn't sit well with the 6,914 in attendance, who serenaded the news with a chorus of boos. Duke fans believed the award should have gone to the Blue Devils' Alana Beard, and her performance against the Golden Eagles only reinforced the belief she'd been slighted.

The senior guard scored 30 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists in the last home game of her career Tuesday night to lead Duke to a 76-67 victory over Marquette in the second round of the tournament.

"Beard would be my player of the year in my experience of scouting her and coaching … I have all the respect in the world for Beard," said Marquette head coach Terri Mitchell. "I mean her quickness, her athleticism, her explosiveness. I don't know if anybody has her explosiveness in this country and what she's capable of doing and turning it on. I know our team walked out of there saying that was the best player they'd played against."

The attention surrounding Beard diverted the spotlight away from Marquette's three seniors — Katie O'Grady, Kelly Schwerman and Crystal Weaver — whose collegiate careers came to a close after falling to the top-seeded team in the Mideast Region.

Schwerman, who led Marquette (22-10) with 16 points and three steals, had no regrets about how the season finished.

"It was a great game it really showed the character of our team," Schwerman said. "How we might not be the quickest and the tallest but we'll come out fighting every game. It was a fun way to end it."

Two days after Duke destroyed Northwestern State, 103-51, ninth-seeded Marquette kept the game close throughout and gave itself a chance to make a comeback in the end thanks to its tenacious defense.

The Golden Eagles pestered Beard into a team high six turnovers, and her team as a whole had 26 — also a season high for the team.

"Our defense has been our strong point all year," sophomore point guard Carolyn Kieger said. "Coach (Mitchell) calls it our 'safety net.' I think what helps us is playing against athletic teams all year and trying to work through against them. With (Duke) I think they got a little rattled with our trap. Maybe they weren't expecting it."

Mitchell said the Golden Eagles' defense helped their game.

"We were switching between man and zone in the second half for a different look and doubling any opportunity we had on the wing," she said. "We had to do something to try to change the course of the game. They were picking the zone apart too easily.

"… And when the turnovers started to happen we just had to continue down that route and see what would go. When a team shoots that well you've got to find a way to limit their opportunities to shoot. Not that we planned it. We'll take it. We just got excited about it and the momentum went our way defensively. We just had to knock down a few more shots on the offensive end."

While Duke shot 51.8 percent from the floor for the game, the Golden Eagles made only 37.7 percent of their shots and missed some open looks down the stretch that could have altered the course of the game.

Despite the loss, Kieger shined a positive light on Marquette's first Women's NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1999-2000 season.

"I think the main thing is it shows we belong," said Kieger, who suffered a cut above her right eye that will require stitches. "It will help our confidence and make us hungry for next year.

"We aren't going to settle here for second round, playing Duke, (losing by nine) points at their home. It lets us know, 'Hey, we can compete.' But we aren't going to settle. It just motivates us even more."

Fans will have to wait until next season to find out if the loss can carry the team to new heights.