Dales' intensity too much for Beard, Blue Devils

SAN ANTONIO -- Alana Beard brought the cool look of the matador -- eyes in a soft gaze, arms glistening in a fighter's sweat, mouth puckered into a near-whistle.

Stacey Dales brought the cold look of the bull -- eyebrows bent in anger, teeth in a steely clench, back slightly arched in straight-ahead readiness.

Friday night, with a shot at the national title game at stake, the bull and the matador met.

Beard, Duke's star guard, was the only player smiling as the two teams converged at center court. Her team won the tip. She got the ball, cocked her left wrist, and drained a three. Then she jogged nonchalantly down the court.

And at the other end of the court, Beard waited for her fellow Kodak All-American. Dales -- Oklahoma's star guard -- approached, gangly and raw with shoulders and elbows flying everywhere. Beard, with those unmoving eyes, extended that long, lethal left arm to within inches of Dales' face. Beard is known for that silky offensive game, but she has enough athleticism and intensity under her own basket to frustrate opponents to tears.

But Dales snorted and darted and somehow rumbled away. There she was, nailing a 3-pointer over undersized guard Sheana Mosch while Beard looked helplessly on. That gave the Sooners their first lead. Then, she was waiting at the top of the key for Beard to guess wrong. Beard bit, and Dales was gone, into the lane, banking a layup with Beard feebly in pursuit.

"You just move," Dales said after the 86-71 win. "She applies pressure, and you move."

And suddenly Dales was everywhere Beard wasn't -- pulling down rebounds and feeding teammates. A 13-11 lead by Duke became a 27-15 Oklahoma lead after another elbows-first layup by Dales.

At the other end, Beard missed an easy shot. The cool gaze gave way to a hot stare. The shoulders dropped. The first half ended: Dales nodded; Beard fled.

"You could sense that Duke was back on their heels," Dales said.

After halftime, more of the same: Dales outscored, outhustled and outlasted Beard -- collecting 17 points, 6 defensive rebounds and 3 steals. There was Dales again, under the basket, receiving a Hail Mary pass and converting it as Beard struggled to keep up. Back in the Oklahoma locker room, on a standalone chalkboard, Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale's handwriting urged: "Play With Abandon. Pass through the door we knocked down." Loud and clear.

And as the clock suffocated Duke's season, Beard found herself twice laid out on the court, rushed and trampled. Beard rolled and winced in defeated agony.

The matador had to be helped up a the bull trotted away.

Eric Adelson is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine.