Blue Devil women's basketball set to face Wake Forest in ACC tournament quarterfinals
After starting off conference play 10-2, the Blue Devils know they didn’t finish the regular season the way they would’ve liked—dropping three of their last four games en route to a fourth place finish in the ACC.
No. 16 Duke will have a chance to reassert its conference dominance against Wake Forest in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Friday at 11 a.m. at Greensboro Coliseum. The 13th seeded Demon Deacons—who finished just 2-14 in the conference—have already pulled off two stunning upsets in the first two days of the tournament.
“Wake is very dangerous, “ Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “They’ve made runs in the tournament before and [Wake Forest forward Dearica] Hamby is a handful.”
The Blue Devils are coming off a hard-fought 81-80 victory against their in-state rival North Carolina. Despite trailing at halftime for the fourth consecutive game and allowing 14 three-pointers in the game, Duke used a 38-4 second-half run to take control of the game before hanging on late to pull out the victory on senior night.
“We were very irritated to be down 11 at halftime," McCallie said. "We made them play our game in the second-half and they had to defend us in the block.”
But the Blue Devils will have to come out ready to play against a pesky Wake Forest that has stuck around in the tournament longer than most would’ve imagined.
In two regular season matchups against the Demon Deacons, the Blue Devils struggled at times to put away their opponent. However, Duke was victorious both times pulling out a 70-63 road victory in January and a 70-53 victory at home a month later. Yet, the Blue Devils know that regular season performance means very little this late in the season.
“Mentally, the tournament is a little different,” senior Elizabeth Williams said. “It’s not like each game your playing for the regular season conference title. It’s one-and-done and you’re only guaranteed one game so there’s more of a sense of urgency for each of us.”
For a young Duke squad that will have four of its eight players making their first appearance in a postseason tournament, staying composed early will be key. In order to get off to a strong start, look for the Blue Devil guards to make a concerted effort to get the ball into Williams and Azura Stevens in the post as much as possible. In the first two matchups between the teams, Duke averaged 39 points in the paint and will likely use a similar inside-out approach on offense Friday.
The punishing post presence of the duo is capable of opening up good looks for redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell—who has been deadly from deep. In Greenwell’s last three contests, the guard has averaged 17.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and has served as the perimeter player the Blue Devils need to supplement their size down low.
“She’s a great competitor and she fights hard to get the ball and to attack,” McCallie said. “She always wants the ball which is a big key to her game and she’s just getting better and better”
Defensively, Duke will have to pay extra attention to Hamby—who is the team's all-time leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. In two tournament games thus far, the First-Team All-ACC performer has carried the Demon Deacons—averaging 23 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
With four-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year Williams controlling the paint, the Blue Devils will need to play solid defense on the perimeter to move past their in-state opponent. Keeping Hamby away from the ball as well as containing freshman guard Amber Campbell—who is coming off a career game in Wake Forest’s 85-79 victory over fifth-seeded Syracuse—will require tight on-ball defense as well as good shot contests on perimeter jump shots.
“We have to do a much better job of getting out and forcing people to put the ball on the floor,” McCallie said. “Defensive spacing is an undersold concept and you have to have it.”
After struggling through a challenging regular season in which the Blue Devils lost three key contributors while playing one of the toughest schedule in the country, the ACC Tournament presents Duke a much-needed opportunity to hit the reset button.
With a win, the Blue Devils will move onto the semifinals where they will take on either top-seeded Notre Dame or Miami Saturday at noon.