Harding, Staley share much in common

RALEIGH, N.C. -- You are the senior starting point guard on your No. 1-seeded team. You were recently named ACC player of the year. Your school has never won a national championship in women's hoops, but you've come close. The year before, in fact, you were agonizingly close as a junior. But your team lost by three points in overtime in the NCAA title game.

Now, you are in your last NCAA Tournament, and you are balancing the pressure of achieving your dream while also trying to remind yourself, "It's just a basketball game. I play all the time. I just need to do what I know how to do."

Obviously, we're talking about Duke's Lindsey Harding, right?

Yes … but we also could be talking about Temple coach Dawn Staley 15 years ago when she played for Virginia.

When the eighth-seeded Owls meet No. 1 Duke in the second round Tuesday (ESPN2, 5 p.m. ET), Staley's team will be trying to do to Harding's team what every foe tried to do to the Cavaliers in 1992. Try to get them in a close game, turn up the pressure and hope they falter.

Virginia made it to the national semifinals in 1992, losing to Stanford in Staley's final game. Staley understands exactly the situation Harding is in now.

"Actually, it's pretty comparable," Staley said Monday afternoon at the RBC Center. "When I was at Virginia, we were the No. 1 team in the country. You have to credit great point-guard play anytime that you're No. 1 in the country.

"You've got Alison Bales, you've got Carrem Gay, Wanisha Smith and Abby Waner … (but) Duke goes as Lindsey Harding goes. She's done a tremendous job of staying balanced with keeping her opponents honest. She's very offensive-minded, but she also can dish it. She can penetrate and kick, she can pressure the basketball. She's the one that runs the show.

"If we can rattle her a little bit, it will be a trickle-down effect. That's the beauty of being the point guard and the captain that runs that ship."

Meaning that it's a "beauty" that has its thorns, so to speak. Players like Staley was and Harding is must shoulder a great deal of responsibility for everyone on their team. But if they're great players like those two, they embrace it.

Harding was an outstanding defensive player from the start of her career who worked to become a well-rounded offensive threat. Staley was an offensive superstar who developed her defense.

Harding -- who averages 13.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and shoots 44 percent from the field -- is too young to remember Staley's Virginia days; Harding didn't even begin to play or follow basketball until she was in the seventh grade. But Harding became a WNBA fan then, and that's when she began watching Staley as a pro player.

"She was definitely a role model," Harding said. "A point guard like me who said, 'I'll score if I have to, I'll pass if I have to. I can have eight assists and play defense and be absolutely fine if my team wins.' "

Staley's U.Va. squad fell to Tennessee in the 1991 NCAA title game 70-67 in overtime. Harding's Blue Devils lost in OT to Maryland last year 78-75. Those are the only times the NCAA women's championship game has gone to extra time.

As if it happened yesterday, Staley recalls, "I had a layup at the end of regulation in 1991 … on which I thought I got fouled."

Staley laughs then, but it's still a little sore spot.

"We were up four in that game with a minute and 20 seconds left. You give me that situation, and I'd think we would never lose. But some things just happen out there that are out of your control."

That's hard for any point guard to acknowledge, because they try so hard to control everything. It's expected of them. And in the case of both Staley and Harding, they are natural-born leaders, but with different personalities.

Staley could communicate with her Cavalier teammates on court, but she said very little back then around most other people away from the court.

"I think Lindsey is more outgoing at her age than I was," Staley said. "When we trained at Duke with the U.S. team [last fall], she came up and talked to me. I would never have done that, even if it was my favorite player. I would have just sat back and watched."

Harding said, "When I saw her when the U.S.A. team came, I was like 'Wow!' I was listening to everything she was saying to other players."

Staley said that's part of what helps make Harding so good.

"She puts herself in position to learn more about basketball because she asks questions," Staley said. "She's not afraid to; she's not a shy person."

Staley was very shy as a college player. But now at age 36, she isn't anymore.

"It wasn't easy to make that transition, but I did make the decision that I wanted to get all the information I could to help me perfect what I do," Staley said about shedding her shyness and opening up to people. "I'm living my passion now."

Duke's Gail Goestenkors was an assistant coach on the U.S. national team when Staley was a player and when Staley also joined the coaching staff last year. She sees a lot of similarities between Staley and Harding.

"They have in common their great leadership ability, the ability to make everyone else better, to elevate their team and their will to win," Goestenkors said. "Plus, their tremendous passion and love for the game."

Goestenkors has told Harding that she thinks she'd make a really good coach some day. Staley would like to see that, too. When Staley was a player, there were very few African-American coaches in the women's college game. Slowly, that's changing, and Staley is a part of that process.

"I want more young black women to aspire to be coaches," Staley said. "Get in on this game that you get so much joy out of. You don't want it to not be a part of your life when your playing days are over. You want to one day give back that good feeling that you had when you were playing."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.