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Shouldering the load

Harding steps up her game, deserves to be POY

Posted: Friday February 23, 2007 12:13PM; Updated: Friday February 23, 2007 2:49PM
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Known in the past as a defensive weapon, Lindsey Harding has been getting it done on both ends for the top-ranked Blue Devils.
Known in the past as a defensive weapon, Lindsey Harding has been getting it done on both ends for the top-ranked Blue Devils.
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Lindsey Harding simply had to assess the situation.

No Alana Beard. No Monique Currie. In the absence of a big-name, go-to player, Harding needed to figure out who would pick up the scoring.

Once she mapped it out in her own mind, the answer was clear.

"I just had to think about it," Harding said. "Monique averaged about 14 or 15 points. That wasn't really that many to be made up on this team if everybody did their part. My average went up, Abby's [Waner] average went up, Nisha's [Wanisha Smith] went up. It was the same with rebounds. I just had to make it make sense in my mind. It had to make sense to me, and then my team would follow."

The Blue Devils may very well follow her back to their fourth Final Four in six seasons. Duke certainly has looked every bit the championship team in reeling off 28 straight wins since last year's loss to Maryland in the title game.

Harding is a big reason. The senior point guard, long known for her defensive prowess, has morphed into an offensive threat. She can drive the lane, pull up from mid-range and nail the three. She leads the Blue Devils in scoring with 14.4 a game.

"That's the one thing I just didn't do my whole career at Duke," Harding said. "I didn't have to. I was always good at setting up the play, but I never had to be a scorer. We had Alana Beard. We had Monique Currie. I knew this year, I was going to have to be an offensive threat."

She's blown her previous career highs out of the water. Harding, who had never scored more than 20 points in a game coming into the season, has already done so four times. She put up 28 and 29 against defending national champion Maryland.

Oh yeah, she's still managed to dish out a team-high 110 assists.

"If Lindsey Harding isn't the player of the year, I don't know who will be," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said after her team's second loss to Duke. "She has stepped up big against every opponent they have played."

Frese is right. That's why Harding is my choice for player of the year.

Others have stepped up, too. Waner is having a great year, and with nearly five blocks a game, Alison Bales is a monster in the paint. Smith and Carrem Gay are coming up big, too. But, Harding has set the tone for it all. She adapted her game to fulfill the Blue Devils' needs. Once accustomed to passing the ball off to one of those big names, Harding now looks at her own scoring opportunities.

"I was the point guard, and called the plays for them," Harding said. "I was driving to get them the open shot, knowing that they were going to knock down. Before, I'd drive and pass it. Now, I drive and look to see what they'll give me."

Race To The Finish

Heading down the final stretch, there are still some interesting conference races taking it to the wire. None may be more heated than the Big 12 where three teams are tied at the top of the standings. Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma are battling it out for the top seed. Neither has an easy finish either. Baylor must play A&M and Oklahoma. The Aggies will close out the season against rival Texas, and the Sooners face Missouri on Sunday.

From The Mailbag

Nate, a Southern Illinois fan pointed out the great season the Salukis are enjoying. He's right. The Salukis won just three games two seasons ago. Last season, they finished at 10-18. Now, in their third season under head coach Dana Eikenberg, head into tonight's game against Evansville with a 17-9 mark. They've also rolled through their Missouri Valley Conference schedule with relative ease. A five-game winning streak has Southern Illinois in first place. And, with a two-game advantage, the Salukis appear headed for their first conference title since 1990.