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Women: Grating expectations dog determined Duke

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Published March 30, 2004

NORFOLK, Va. - One team has been a No.1 seed four years in a row. The other has only been to the NCAA Tournament four times.

In tonight's region final between Duke and Minnesota, the pressure of high expectations is on the Blue Devils, who have reached two straight Final Fours and lost in the semifinals each time.

"It's sort of unfinished business," Duke's three-time All-American, Alana Beard, said Monday. "Sometimes I wake up in tears thinking about how much this class deserves it and how much I want it for this program."

"It," of course, is a national championship, now three wins away for the Blue Devils and Golden Gophers.

"It's kind of hard just to put off to the side and ignore because there's such a strong fire burning inside of my heart," Beard said. "But you don't want to put it aside because it keeps that fire burning."

After being No.1 during the season and winning their fifth straight ACC title, Duke (30-3) was expected to get this far, and to make it a more rewarding tournament than the past two.

"Every year the question's been asked, "Do you think you're going to win?"' Iciss Tillis said. "And every year the answer is, "Yes.' But this is our last shot and we've got to leave everything out on the floor."

The Golden Gophers (24-8) have come from obscurity by taking out No.2 seed Kansas State in the second round and No.3 Boston College in the region semifinals Sunday, a 76-63 victory.

With a deceiving record caused by playing seven games without second-team All-American Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota's rise as a seventh seed has surprised everyone but the Gophers.

"Four weeks ago when the seedings came out, no one expected us to do a whole lot," Whalen, a senior point guard, said. "I don't know that anyone other than our team expected us to get out of Minnesota."

It doesn't mean the Gophers want to win any less.

"There's a difference between feeling like you have to go somewhere to wanting to," Whalen said. "When you want to do something, you play so much better and so much more in control compared to when you feel like you have to do something. Then, you start to feel the pressure."

Tillis has a nightly ritual attached to championship dreams.

"Every night before I go to bed, I think about playing great and the shot clock winding down and we're up and we're looking at each other and somebody throws the ball up and everyone rushes out there," she said. "I get that feeling and I smile. I think about it every year. I always get the feeling of us winning, and it hasn't come true yet," she said. "But I really really still feel it's going to come true."

The winner plays Connecticut.

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