Duke coach Gail Goestenkors was the driving force behind the Blue Devils' perfect regular season. Oklahoma sophomore Courtney Paris, too, showed consistent excellence.
Their successes were honored Saturday, when they received The Associated Press' women's basketball coach and player of the year awards.
"It's a great honor and a tribute to this team, the players and what they gave to the program," Goestenkors said. "They were able to accept and embrace new roles."
Paris became the first sophomore to be voted player of the year, narrowly edging Tennessee's Candace Parker and Duke's Lindsey Harding. Paris received 18 votes, while Parker and Harding got 16 each in the voting by the 50-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25.
"It means a lot to me," Paris said of being the first sophomore. "It's a reflection of how much our sport has grown and how younger kids are growing up watching those older players and becoming better because of it. I think I'm a reflection of that."
Goestenkors, who has won nearly 400 games in her career at Duke, was a runaway winner for coach of the year with 40 votes. North Carolina State's Kay Yow - a sentimental choice after returning from treatment for breast cancer - had six.
Goestenkors said she was accepting the award for Yow.
"My job is easy compared to what she has been through," she said of Yow. "She embodies what all coaches should strive for. We should all aspire to be like her."
Goestenkors guided the Blue Devils to a 29-0 record in the regular season - the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to do so and 14th in NCAA history. She also led Duke to an NCAA-record seventh straight 30-win season.
The Blue Devils suffered their first loss in the ACC tournament semifinals, falling to N.C. State. Her team was No. 1 in the AP poll for the season's final nine weeks and the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Duke's season came to an abrupt end when the Blue Devils fell to Rutgers 53-52 in the Greensboro Regional semifinals.
"She is a great teacher and great motivator," Duke senior guard Harding said. "She's just someone who cares about her players, who would do the best for her players before anything." A seven-time ACC Coach of the Year, the 44-year-old Goestenkors' future at Duke is unclear. Considered the top candidate for the vacancy at Texas, where Jody Conradt announced her resignation March 12, Goestenkors interviewed with the Longhorns on Wednesday. "I would like to make the decision as soon as possible for peace of mind and peace of heart," Goestenkors said Saturday. "Texas is a job that I've always thought was one of the best jobs in the country." Paris will get a chance to play for Goestenkors when the national team travels to Italy next week.
Oklahoma's coaches decided not to tell Paris that she was player of the year. She looked at them quizzically when her name was announced Saturday.
"I was a little taken back by it," Paris said. "It was just a huge surprise, and I'm very humbled by it."
She said the award easily could have gone to Harding, who smiled from her seat in the audience. The 6-foot-4 Paris was third in the nation in scoring at 23.3 points and second in rebounding with 15.8. Paris led the Sooners to the round of 16, where they lost to Mississippi.
"She has been so instrumental in our success this season," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "She doesn't go out and try to get double-doubles, they just come natural to her because she works so hard." Paris has always prided herself on being consistent. "Ever since eighth grade, I was always annoyed when a girl would score five points one game and then 20 the next," Paris said. "I always wanted to be consistent, so when I got to Oklahoma, I considered it my job."
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