Blue Devils turn Aztecs over

Thomas' 29 lift Duke over San Diego State, 66-58

March 28, 2010|By From Sun news services

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — — Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie sees Jasmine Thomas as someone who is never satisfied. Thanks to the junior guard, the Blue Devils now stand a win away from their first Final Four since 2006.

Thomas matched her career-high with 29 points and sprinkled her stat line with a little bit of everything, and second-seeded Duke ended No. 11 seed San Diego State's surprising NCAA tournament run with a 66-58 victory Saturday to reach the regional final.

"She's just a very hungry player, someone who loves to get out there and dictate and on both sides of the ball," McCallie said. "A lot of emphasis goes to her scoring, which is incredible. I really think her defensive energy and what you put out there helped her enormously offensively, and I know it helped our team."

Thomas also finished with five rebounds, six assists and five steals in her 33 minutes.

"She's a load," San Diego State coach Beth Burns said of Thomas. "She's complete. Her vision, her ball skills, her defensive ability. She's good, she's real good."

With the win, the Blue Devils (30-5) notched their eighth 30-win season in the past decade and moved to their first regional final since 2006 when they lost in overtime to Maryland in the national championship game.

"You still feel like you're not done yet," Duke forward Joy Cheek said. "We have one more game to get to the Final Four. That's what we're thinking about. The mission is not complete."

The Blue Devils reached their eighth regional final in the last 13 years and will play fourth-seeded Baylor, a 77-62 winner over No. 1 seed Tennessee, on Monday night in what will be the second Duke-Baylor regional final in 48 hours with their men's teams playing today in Houston for a trip to the Final Four. STATS Inc. said it's the first such pairing in the round of eight.

Duke led 35-34 after a tight first half, and the Blue Devils scored the first 10 points of the second half to take advantage of the Aztecs' cold shooting.

Cheek also added 14 points for Duke. The Blue Devils, who came in second nationally averaging 13.3 steals per game, nearly had that at halftime with 12. They finished with 23 and turned San Diego State's 26 turnovers into 32 points. Duke also improved to 25-2 when holding an opponent under 40 percent with the Aztecs hitting just 37.7 percent.

"They were relentless," Burns said. "All credit goes to them. They certainly stepped up. They had something they wanted to get, and they went out to get it."

Quenese Davis led the Aztecs with 14 points. Jene Morris had 13, and Paris Johnson 12 before fouling out late.

The Blue Devils came as the Atlantic Coast Conference champ in both the regular season and the tournament. Their lofty pedigree and seeding didn't bother San Diego State for the first 20 minutes, not with the Aztecs having already knocked off Texas on its home court and third-seeded West Virginia just to reach this stage for the first time 1985.

The Aztecs didn't shy away from the speedy Blue Devils.

But Duke led 35-34 at halftime after a tight first half in which the teams swapped the lead back and forth 10 times with four ties. Duke led by as much as seven with seven straight points at 29-22 on a 3-pointer by Thomas, who had 17 in the first half. She said she came out aggressive.

"I was pumped up, ready to play," Thomas said. "I mean I just read what the defense was giving me. Joy set a few more ball screens, and they played back off me so I took the shot that was open."

The tight game changed in the second half as the Aztecs lost their shooting touch. They missed their first 10 and hit only one of 13 before Quenese Davis' 3 with 8:05 left.

"They're really athletic and long," Morris said. "They closed really well. At times, we thought we had open looks, they were right in our face. They closed really well."

Duke didn't waste the opportunity. The Blue Devils opened the half with a 21-3 spurt in grabbing control, capped by Cheek's bucket with 8:18 left and a 56-37 lead. Thomas hit all six free throws in that stretch to help pad the margin.

Baylor 77, Tennessee 62: Freshman sensation Brittney Griner has grown up a lot this season - just ask Tennessee.

Griner scored 27 points and blocked 10 shots, leading fourth-seeded Baylor to a 77-62 win over the top-seeded Lady Vols on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament regional finals.

"She was the X factor," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, whose team was taken out in the first round last season.

Baylor's only other appearance in the round of eight was in 2005, the same year it won the national championship. The Lady Bears (26-9) will face No. 2 seed Duke on Monday night.

The Lady Vols' loss spoiled the highly anticipated matchup between Tennessee and Connecticut, which could have happened in this year's national semifinals. The Lady Vols, who lost in the first round last season, haven't missed out on back-to-back Final Fours since 1993-94.

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