MONROE, La. — It took a serious knee injury to her friend and roommate, Tina Hutchinson, to help make Dee Dee Duncan the complete player she is today.
Duncan's turnabout came after she scored a career-high 24 points last December in the Aztecs' 77-73 loss to Southern Illinois in the Dial tournament championship game in which Hutchinson and center Toni Wallace were injured.
"It was up to me," said Duncan, a junior criminal justice major. "It was the first time the pressure was on me, and I knew I had to be the one shooting. After that game, I knew I could deal with it (the pressure)."
She has played an important role on the Aztec team since Hutchinson, the team's leading scorer, suffered the knee injury.
"When Tina was there," Duncan said, "I gave up my offensive talents. I always looked to pass before shooting. Once she got injured, I had to start creating things for myself in order to score."
Hutchinson, who understands the predicament her roommate was in, sympathizes with her.
"It's hard for other players to take control when you have an athlete like me out on the floor," Hutchinson said.
With Hutchinson no longer taking most of the shots from the wing position, Duncan became the team's shooter.
And, the relationship between Hutchinson and Duncan, friends since high school, changed considerably.
"She became better company at home," Hutchinson said.
"From packing to dressing to transportation," Duncan said, "Tina needed someone. She tries to be independent, but she is dependent."
Hutchinson and the Aztecs both became more dependent on Duncan.
"After Tina got hurt," Aztec Coach Earnest Riggins said, "I told Dee Dee she had to assume more of a leadership role. She knows the floor better than any other player on the team."
As an off-guard or small forward, Duncan handles the ball at the point, makes jump shots from the wing, and rebounds with bigger and stronger players inside.
Quick opponents are surprised when Duncan drives past them.
Opposing front-line players are surprised when Duncan uses finesse and trickery to outrebound them.
"I'm also rough and tough," Duncan said, showing a wide smile. "What I lack in height, I try to make up for by intimidating players in other ways.
"I bounce the ball hard, I use tricks, and I take it to them. I post up tight, and go in with no respect for defensive players."
Her physical style of play may surprise some people, but very few opponents are surprised when Duncan makes four of five consecutive jump shots.
"When she gets in her rhythm," Riggins said, "there's not a better shooter in the country."
Interestingly, it was Duncan's errant shot that helped the Aztecs defeat the University of Nevada Las Vegas last Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Teammate Shelda Arceneaux rebounded Duncan's airball and scored at the buzzer to give the Aztecs a 70-68 victory. The win advanced the Aztecs to the second round against Louisiana Tech, starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
"When the game is on the line and comes down to one shot," Duncan said, "I would like to be the one to shoot it. Last year, the ball would go to Tina (Hutchinson). This year, I'm as important as anyone on the team."
Duncan has had the talent to excel at the collegiate level since she was an All-Southern Section player at Inglewood High School near Los Angeles, but she hasn't had the confidence or the opportunity until this season.
She was unsure of her role on the Aztec team until last December. Young, versatile players often find themselves in a state of confusion as to what their team role is. "Last year I felt I was on the court because they needed five players," Duncan said. "Now, I feel like I'm a vital part of the team."
As a starter in 20 of the team's 28 games, Duncan developed into the Aztecs' leader on the court.
"When things get out of hand," Duncan said, "I try to slow the ball down some. I also give positive thoughts to the players."
She also has led by example. Duncan doesn't get nearly as frustrated on the court as she used to, and as a result, Riggins keeps her in games longer.
The extra playing time has helped inflate her scoring average. She is the team's third-leading scorer with an 11.8 average. Duncan also averages 4.4 rebounds and is second in assists with 3.9 per game.
Because Duncan has become more consistent, Riggins has even higher expectations of her.
"She could be the dominant factor on the floor," Riggins said, "but her scoring has been inconsistent. A lot of times she'll have a good shot, and work her way into a bad shot.
"If she could eliminate some of her erratic play, she could be an All-American."