Friday, March 26, 1999

Duke toiling in twin shadows

Georgia duo, men's team steal thunder

Enquirer news services

        SAN JOSE, Calif. — They look alike, play alike and sound alike. And if there was any lingering doubt about whether Kelly and Coco Miller are related, consider this: Each reached 1,000 career points in her 57th college game.

        The identical twins, who average a combined 37 points per game in the Georgia backcourt, present a double challenge for Duke in tonight's first semifinal game at the women's NCAA Final Four.

        “Watching the twins is an incredible experience,” Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. “It's an exciting brand of basketball.”

        Kelly averaged 18.6 points per game this season for the Lady Bulldogs, and Coco averaged 18.4. They swapped the team lead for scoring six times, with Kelly overtaking her sister by scoring a career-high 33 points in Georgia's 89-71 win over Iowa State in the Mideast Regional final in Cincinnati.

        “I think our personalities are very similar,” Kelly said. “And we've played together for so long I think that helps a lot on the court. We love to play together. We are close. I think it has strengthened the bond.”

        The 5-foot-10 sophomore sisters started playing basketball as 4-year-olds in Rochester, Minn. They are considered the best twins in women's basketball since Pam and Paula McGee played at Southern California during the 1980s.

        Georgia coach Andy Landers has coached three sets of twins, and tries to downplay the novelty of coaching such similar players. When asked for humorous anecdotes about the twins, such as cases of mistaken identity, he was at a loss.

        “I'm going to burst your bubble,” he said. “I can't tell you a lot of funny stories because we've worked hard at treating them as individuals. While they look alike, they're not alike. Do they have a lot of common bonds? Yes. But I hope everybody on our team does.”

        Coco is a slightly better outside shooter. Kelly has more rebounds, steals and assists.

        “The way that they move is very different,” Landers said. “You can just look across the floor and know who it is, who is running or dribbling or shooting.”

        Though Georgia is in its third Final Four since 1995, the Lady Bulldogs have been over shadowed in recent years by Southeastern Conference peer Tennessee — whose run of three straight national championships ended with a loss to Duke in the East Regional final.

        Duke, which is playing in its first Final Four, has been overshadowed by its men's team — which is a strong favorite to win the national title.

        Even though the female Blue Devils have generated relatively little enthusiasm back home on a campus infatuated by the men's team, Goestenkors said being associated with the men's squad has been good for her program.

        “I've never felt like we were in the shadow of our men's program,” she said. “I have always felt like our men's basketball program casts a light on us and on our entire university. I think it is a huge benefit that our men's program is so successful.”

        Someday, when women's basketball has grabbed a greater foothold in the American consciousness, Monday's upset of Tennessee may be remembered like the great surprises in the men's tournament. Surprises like the 1983 North Carolina State victory over Houston or the 1985 Villanova shocker over Georgetown.

        The seeds of Monday's stun ner were sown seven years ago, when Goestenkors, a 29-year-old Purdue assistant, took over a moribund program.

        Goestenkors, who had no head coaching experience, made as a condition of her employment that the school would boost its commitment to women's basketball by spending more on facilities and recruiting.

        The Devils have made a steady climb into the elite, winning 20 games in each of the past four seasons and the ACC title the past two years. They averaged a record 2,700 spectators for 1998-99 home games.