Can Duke compete with UConn?

The Blue Devils actually can use the past to their advantage, if they choose to look at it that way. They should let it fire them up. They should take the court ticked off over how the program has played in this marquee matchup since 2007, even though the current Blue Devils, of course, weren't involved in all those games. They should come out intent on proving that they really can go toe-to-toe with the Huskies.

Then, it's a matter of executing what this senior-laded Blue Devils team knows it can do. But that's immensely easier said than done.

UConn has deconstructed Duke each time. It's not that the Blue Devils have ever been anywhere nearly as bad as the Huskies have made them look. But UConn has dictated every aspect of play. What the Huskies didn't take away from Duke, the Blue Devils summarily took away from themselves.

Duke is, obviously, not the only team to be steamrolled by UConn, which specializes in such things. But Duke has been one of the elite women's programs for a while now, able to recruit high-level student-athletes and stockpile talent. And with that status of being one of the VIPs in any sport comes certain obligations and expectations.

This isn't something that the Blue Devils should see as a burden. The Huskies don't see it that way. They like the fact that they are expected to win. They relish the psychological advantage that gives them.

This is not meant to say that UConn relies heavily on psyching out all its opponents; the Huskies flat-out get it done on court. They are relentless on the boards, they finish shots, they run their sets, they defend ferociously, year after year after year. If you get to play in a UConn uniform, it's because you've proven you will be going hard every time you step on the floor.

Five programs -- Notre Dame, Stanford, Baylor, Rutgers and St. John's -- have beaten UConn in the previous six seasons that McCallie has been at Duke. In the case of Notre Dame and Baylor, in particular, those teams reached a point where they really believed they were as good as UConn going into those games, and thus went in on level ground.

Has Duke ever believed that? The Blue Devils did get to that place -- really believing they could beat anyone -- under previous coach Gail Goestenkors, but it took a while. Duke's first true breakthrough victory on a national scale was in Goestenkors' seventh season there, when the Blue Devils upset Tennessee in the 1999 NCAA Elite Eight to advance to the program's first Women's Final Four. (McCallie is in her seventh season at Duke.)

Under Goestenkors, Duke played UConn four times, losing the first two and winning the second two.

The latter included a crazy 2004 contest in Hartford won by Jessica Foley's last-second 3-pointer, which not only gave Duke the victory, but also its only lead of that game. Then in the 2006 regional final in Bridgeport, Conn., Duke won 63-61 in overtime.

That sent Duke to the Final Four for the fourth time, and the Blue Devils have not returned since.

Still, during McCallie's time at Duke, the Blue Devils are 184-35. They have made four consecutive Elite Eight appearances. They are usually the "Goliath" to most other teams.

So while the Blue Devils understandably might be irritated hearing about what they haven't done, this -- again -- is the domain of championship-caliber programs. It's certainly not a bad place to be, if you can become comfortable with it.

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