Henson steals show as Duke women's basketball routs Pitt
The big story of the day was senior guard Tricia Liston breaking Abby Waner's school record for career 3-pointers, but it was Amber Henson's 13-point performance that had everyone talking.
After spending the majority of the past two seasons on the bench rehabbing from knee injuries, Henson registered a career-high 13 points in 16 minutes of play in her team's 111-67 rout of Pittsburgh.
“It’s great to see. Amber has fought so hard to be back on the floor," Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We all feel strongly about that. If Amber makes any shot, we go crazy, because we know what she’s been through."
Henson has seen her fair share of ups and downs throughout her time at Duke. The third-year redshirt freshman has been with the Blue Devils since the 2010-11 season, but due to a prior knee injury that ultimately required surgery, Henson was never able to see significant minutes. After missing all of last season, the Duke coaching staff eased Henson back into the lineup slowly, with Henson playing 8.5 minutes per game, the second-lowest average on the team.
The rust certainly showed early on, as prior to Sunday's contest, Henson was 5-of-25 from the field and 0-for-7 from behind the arc. Against Pittsburgh, she showed off her offensive skill set, going 3-of-5 from the field and 4-of-6 from the charity stripe,
“A lot of the shots I took earlier in the year, I was a little hesitant," Henson said. "So just working on it in practice, and having my coach and my teammates saying, ‘Amber, shoot the ball’ really builds your confidence up."
At this point, knee injuries are no stranger to the Duke women's basketball team. Along with Henson being out for the past two years, senior point guard Chelsea Gray will miss the remainder of conference play for the second year in a row after suffering a broken kneecap against Boston College.
Last season it was Alexis Jones who stepped up in Gray's absence and claimed her stake as one of the nation's top point guards. With Gray going down once again, both Henson's production and playing time could increase in order to make up for the lost energy and offensive fire power that Gray brought to the team.
"Definitely with Chelsea going out there is a need for people to step up and fill those spots," Henson said. "So I think me having a game like this was important for my confidence, but also for my coaches to see that I can do it."
At 6-foot-4, Henson works perfectly in McCallie's system as a three or stretch-four, creating mismatches at both positions. Her 3-point shooting ability was on full display Sunday, as she went a perfect 3-for-3 from long range.
"That’s the best Amber has played all year, and also the most comfortable she’s looked," McCallie said. "She’s a fabulous shooter. I would say her and [Liston] are the best shooters in the nation on the ball, and how they shoot the basketball. It was great to see her do that as well.”
For Henson, while she is aware she is not yet at her peak physical form, she is excited about how comfortable she felt against the Panthers. With her knee feeling better than ever, Henson will now be able to focus on the more detail-oriented aspects of her game rather than focus on rehab.
"Well this is definitely the best I’ve ever felt playing," Henson said. "Obviously there are still some things I can work on in terms of mechanics and movement. But as far as my knee, it feels great. Conditioning will come but I’ve been working on it, and I think eventually that’ll come too."