by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke begins its 16th straight appearance in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament on Saturday afternoon, and Joanne P. McCallie's Blue Devils have one benefit they'll have for the first time since 2004.
They're starting the tournament on their home floor.
Duke (26-5), which is ranked No. 6 nationally, has the No. 2 seed in the Memphis Region and will take on No. 15 seed Hampton (20-11) in a 2:30 p.m. game at Cameron.
It's the second game of a doubleheader, as No. 7 seed LSU (20-9) will face No. 10 seed Hartford (27-4) in the noon game, with the winners squaring off at 7 p.m. Monday night.
Plenty of tickets are available.
Duke isn't the only Triangle ACC team playing its first-round game Saturday, as No. 10 seed UNC (19-11) will take on No. 7 seed and nationally No. 18-ranked Gonzaga (27-4) in the Sacramento Regional in Seattle at 10:30 p.m. The No. 10 seed is the Tar Heels' lowest NCAA seed ever.
No. 9 seed N.C. State (20-13) will play its first-round game on Sunday night against No. 8 seed UCLA (24-8) in Minneapolis in the first round of the Kansas City Regional.
Duke and Hampton have one thing in common that the other teams at Cameron don't, and it's not because they're blue-clad teams from well-regarded private schools in neighboring states.
They both won their conference tournaments - in locations about half an hour apart, as the Blue Devils won the ACC in Greensboro and the Pirates won the MEAC in Winston-Salem.
"We're obviously really proud to host this wonderful NCAA Tournament, and we're grateful to a lot of people at Duke that made this possible," said McCallie, whose team last season played its NCAA games at Michigan State where she was the former coach and lost to the Spartans in the second round. "That's just a great thing for Duke, and it's really reflective of the long tradition and history here."
The Blue Devils will be taking on a Pirate club in its first season under David Six, who began the campaign as interim head coach and has earned a three-year contract.
Hampton is 0-3 in first-round NCAA games at the Division I level, but won the NCAA Division II title in 1988.
"This is hallowed ground in terms of basketball, Cameron Indoor Stadium," said Six, one of whose assistants is former N.C. Central point guard and assistant coach Annitra Cole. "Everybody's heard about it or seen it on TV. But at the end of the day the court's 94 feet, the baskets are 10 feet off the ground. So that's what I've told my young ladies, and we're ready to go. I just think that we can't get caught up. We're happy to be here; don't get me wrong. We celebrated that we're here, but now that we're here we want to stay. It's like getting into a party and then getting put out. We want to dance a little while, so let's try that."
Duke, of course, would like to believe it can go a long way in the tournament.
"I just think we have to be focused, stick to our game, and play the way that's made us successful," senior forward Joy Cheek (pictured) said. "Play defense and make the hustle plays. In the tournament everyone has played 30-plus games, so every game is not going to be pretty - it's the team that wants it more. And we have to want it more that our opponent each game. So if we want to make a deep run in the tournament - which I think we're more than capable of doing - we have to go out and play like every game is our last game."
Jasmine Thomas, the junior guard who is the Blue Devils' scoring and assist leader, said Hampton presents an interesting challenge.
"We've seen them play a few games (on tape)," Thomas said. "We definitely know that they play very hard. They're a high-energy team. They're quick, and they're undersized but they don't let that affect them. So we know we're just going to have to do what we've been doing, try to control the boards and get back to our board dominance."
Hampton's leading scorer and rebounder is junior forward Quanneisha Perry, who said she's well-aware of Duke's tradition.
"I was watching Alana Beard and all the rest of them, Lindsey Harding," Perry said. "And they did some good things. I just want to do some good things for my teammates and some good things for Hampton University."
Sophomore Jerika Jenkins, the Pirates' 5-4 starting guard, said the main thing her team has to do is really believe it can win.
"I feel like (Duke players) are regular basketball players, just like we're basketball players," Jenkins said. "They have a different name on their jerseys and they're in a different conference, but we can still play with them.
"They have all these accomplishments and trophies to show, but I believe with us winning the MEAC we can do the same thing. We just need to keep it going."
No. 6 Duke vs. Hampton
[Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Cameron Indoor Stadium]
Duke leads series 3-0.
Records: Duke 27-5; Hampton 20-11.
Audio: WDNC-AM 620, GoDuke.com.
Coaches' records - Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 394-169, 78-21 at Duke; Hampton: David Six 20-11.
Leading scorers - Duke: Jasmine Thomas 15.8; Hampton: Quanneisha Perry 13.0.
Leading rebounders - Duke: Krystal Thomas 6.8; Hampton: Quanneisha Perry 9.3.
Assist leaders - Duke: Jasmine Thomas 4.2; Hampton: Jericka Jenkins 3.7.
UNC vs. No. 18 Gonzaga
[Saturday, 10:30 p.m., Bank of America Arena, Seattle]
UNC leads series 1-0.
Records: UNC 19-11, Gonzaga 27-4.
Audio: WCHL-AM 1360, TarHeelBlue.com.
Coaches' records - UNC: Sylvia Hatchell: 831-293, 559-213 at UNC; Gonzaga: Kelly Graves 238-132 ; 172-106 at Gonzaga.
Leading scorers - UNC: Italee Lucas 14.7; Gonzaga: Heather Bowman 15.6.
Leading rebounders - UNC: Laura Broomfield 7.9; Gonzaga: Vivian Frieson 7.3.
Assist leaders - UNC: Cetera DeGraffenreid 5.0; Gonzaga: Courtney Vandersloot 9.3