As the Blue Devils wrapped up a dominant effort against Hampton Friday, Duke could not help but think about what lies ahead after losing guard Kyra Lambert in the second quarter due to a knee injury.
Although only a day has passed, the second-seeded Blue Devils will have to clear their mind and put Lambert's absence behind them when they take on No. 10 seed Oregon Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“They are doing better than the coaches,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said at a press conference Sunday. “You really get motivated by a team’s resilience. Last night was a hard night for all of us. There were a lot of tears last night. I just chuckled because, listening to what they were saying, they were just spot on. You could never replace a person like Kyra. We will not try to. We will not try to reinvent that. It is a wonderful opportunity for others.”
Following the Blue Devils' 94-31 victory against the 15th-seeded Lady Pirates in their NCAA tournament opener, McCallie said the sophomore guard will be out “for a long time,” with the Cibolo, Texas, native undergoing an MRI Sunday night that confirmed she tore her left ACL.
First-team All-ACC guard Lexie Brown will assume the bulk of the point guard duties for Duke in a shortened eight-man rotation. Brown served as more of a facilitator in the Blue Devils' win Friday—racking up nine assists to go along with her 11 points—and will likely need to do more of the same as teams build their defensive gameplans around stopping her.
Guards Crystal Primm and Faith Suggs will also have to shoulder the burden for Duke (28-5) in Lambert's absence. The backup guards combined for six points and six rebounds in 28 minutes Friday, but neither started a game or played more than 11 minutes per contest in the regular season.
“Well, we are now the Electric Eight,” McCallie said. “We went from the Nasty Nine to the Electric Eight. It means that everyone is going to play. That is a good thing. Lexie talked about Faith and Crystal and how they can contribute. I think they are unknowns, especially to opponents. We know them, so I think they are ready to go.”
Although Suggs and Primm have flashed their potential at times this season, the duo is unlikely to replicate Lambert’s 39.7 percent shooting mark from beyond the arc. Primm hasn't attempted a triple and Suggs has connected on just two 3-pointers this season.
The Blue Devils will have their hands full against an Oregon backcourt that is capable of getting hot from the perimeter. The Ducks (21-13) own the fourth-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country—one spot in front of Duke—and have relied on an explosive offense to carry them. Oregon is surging heading into the second-round matchup, fresh off a nail-bitting 71-70 victory against seventh-seeded Temple after also defeating No. 12 Washington in the Pac-12 tournament.
Despite having three guards who shoot better than 38 percent from deep—including star freshman Sabrina Ionescu, who averages 14.4 points and 5.6 assists per game—the Ducks showed the ability to win when their jumpshots are not falling against the Owls. Oregon shot just 4-of-16 from beyond the arc, but came away with the win by relying on freshman Ruthy Hebard, who finished with 23 points and the game-winning buzzer-beater to push the Ducks to the second round.
Hebard nearly averaged a double-double in the regular season and forms a dangerous post attack along with 6-foot-5 freshman Mallory McGwire. The tandem will make life down low tough for Duke, as McGwire is capable of altering shots at the rim and finished with three rejections against Temple.
“Oregon’s four and five are terrifically talented on the interior," McCallie said. "That high post is a very important spot for them offensively. We have got to do a great job there. It is not defense as much as it is people. The way Lexie, Becca, Kyra, Crystal, everybody, have committed to defense—they really enjoy getting after folks from a standpoint of the ball pressure and the intensity.”
Although the Blue Devils will take on Oregon for the first time in program history and have not faced a Pac-12 opponent this season, the Ducks have some similarities to opponents the Blue Devils defeated in conference play.
Oregon's jump-shot heavy attack somewhat resembles the offense Duke faced from Syracuse in two wins this season. In the victories, the Blue Devils held the Orange to just 50.5 points per game and a putrid 17-of-69 shooting from beyond the arc.
“In some respects, when you play Syracuse, they have three incredible 3-point shooting guards on the perimeter,” McCallie said. “I mean very, very good. That comes to mind a little bit. But the inside game is a little bit different. I can think of a post player from Miami that is a lot like Mallory McGwire, or things of that nature. There are definitely pieces there, but they are their own kind of team.”
After responding in the face of a turbulent offseason, Duke's mental toughness will be put to one of its toughest tests with Lambert's injury still weighing on the team ahead of Monday's game. With a win against Oregon, the Blue Devils would advance to take on No. 3 seed Maryland in the Sweet 16 Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn.