NORFOLK, Va. – The best phrase Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie has to describe doing the unexpected is the tingle.
McCallie has experienced it before.
Now, shes hoping to experience the tingle again when the Blue Devils take on top-seeded Notre Dame in the final of the Norfolk Regional tonight. McCallie and her players know the Irish are expected to win.
You dont really have to be an underdog to get the tingle. McCallie said Monday, adding that shes 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 fine.
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 games 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 Sundays victory against sixth-seeded Nebraska, the Blue Devils shot 32.8 percent and relied heavily on their defense in a 53-45 victory.
Notre Dame has played in the last two national championship games, losing to Texas A&M in 2011 and Baylor last season, and now face Diggins last opportunity.
Diggins, who scored 22 of her 27 points by halftime as the Irish beat Kansas 93-63 on Sunday and became the programs career scoring leader with her last basket, said shes careful not to look too far ahead, but cant help but thinking about a storybook finish to her career.
It would mean a lot. It would mean a lot, and I cant say thats something thats 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 cant get to that point if we dont 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, thats Duke.
Shes 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, said coach Muffet McGraw, whose team won the 2001 title. I think she has been such a phenomenal presence in our program, legendary. I dont think what shes 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.
First, the 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 were pretty confident where we are right now and how weve played all season, McGraw, in her 26th season, said. I think our résumé, the experience weve had on the road and at home, the caliber of opponent I think weve beaten, I think gives us great confidence.