March 20, 2009

(AP) - While it didn't win the ACC regular season title or tournament championship, Duke earned a top seed by thriving with one of the nation's toughest schedules.

The Blue Devils hope to benefit from that tough slate in the search for their first national title, which begins Sunday in East Lansing, Mich., against No. 16 seed Austin Peay.

Duke (26-5) won eight of its 12 games against ranked opponents - most coming versus the rugged ACC - with two losses coming in overtime. Victories over fellow top seed Maryland, second-seeded Stanford and at two-time defending national champ Tennessee were among those on its resume, and the Blue Devils just missed a sweep of four Top 25 teams to end the season, falling in overtime to the Terrapins in the conference finals.

"I think it's wonderful that the whole body of work was evaluated," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "It wasn't political. They look at the team we've beaten, our RPI (No. 5), all components there. It's nice to say we earned it and have folks recognize what the team has done."

The Blue Devils could play Stanford and Tennessee in the Berkeley Region, and McCallie could face her former team, Michigan State, in Tuesday's second round should the ninth-seeded hosts get past No. 8 seed Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.

The Blue Devils are making their 15th consecutive appearance and have won at least two games in 11 straight tournaments, but the team's seniors - Chante Black, Abby Waner and Carrem Gay - were freshmen the last time they advanced beyond the regional semifinals.

That run ended in the 2006 title game with another overtime defeat to Maryland.

Black, the ACC's defensive player of the year, led the Blue Devils with 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, and the center needs 21 rebounds to become the third ACC player with 1,400 points, 1,000 rebounds and 250 blocked shots.

Waner and Gay are part of a balanced offense that has six players scoring at least 6.7 points per game.

Duke is also among the nation's leaders in steals (13.4) and forcing turnovers (23.3).

In McCallie's first year following Gail Goestenkors' departure to Texas, the third-seeded Blue Devils defeated Murray State and Arizona State last season before falling to No. 2 seed Texas A&M.

Austin Peay entered the Ohio Valley Conference tournament with a losing record after dropping five of its last six in the regular season, but the Governors became the first No. 5 seed to capture the OVC title with a 69-65 double-overtime victory over Eastern Illinois.

After finishing 6-23 in Carrie Daniels' second season, the Governors (17-15) made one of the largest improvements in Division I this season and will make their first NCAA appearance since 2004 - and sixth overall.

Senior forward April Thomas, the OVC tournament MVP, averaged 17.6 points over the final nine games, and led Austin Peay with 13.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Sophomore swingman Ashley Herring scored 18.0 points per game during the Governors' tournament run and averaged in double figures (12.1 ppg) along with junior forward Nicole Jamen (11.2).

Austin Peay has never won in the NCAA tournament and lost 80-38 to Tennessee in 2001 in its only other appearance as a No. 16 seed.