With four freshmen and one graduate transfer joining the roster, Duke got a head start on team bonding before the school year began.   

The Blue Devils wrapped up a 10-day trip to Italy Wednesday that featured three basketball games, visits to several of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions and a lot of pasta-eating. Duke won its first two games of the trip before losing its final contest after backcourt leaders Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell and graduate transfer Bego Faz Davalos had to return home early for class at the Fuqua School of Business.   

“It was a lot of fun just to play different combinations and different lineups. It was a great experimental type of trip on the court,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’ve got our four new freshmen and then Bego, so five new people playing critical roles, so it was excellent.”   

The first matchup was an 84-66 victory against the Netherlands national team in Rome. The Blue Devils broke the game open in the fourth quarter after the Netherlands trimmed the deficit to six early in the final period.    

Duke then cruised past a team called the Italian All-Stars 119-33 in Florence, with seven players scoring in double figures, and lost 78-65 to Celje Basketball Club, a Slovenian professional team featuring recent Blue Devil graduate Oderah Chidom, two days later in Venice.   

“We had some really good competition,” McCallie said. “The Netherlands were very good, and the last team was really good, so two out of three were extremely challenging.”   

Duke shot a blistering 45.1 percent from beyond the arc in the three games, with Brown leading the team in scoring in both contests she played. And the return of redshirt sophomore guard Haley Gorecki also bolstered the team on the perimeter.   

Gorecki missed the last season and a half with a hip injury, but started two of the three games in Italy and was one of six Blue Devils to average at least 10 points on the trip. She also pulled down 5.0 rebounds per game.   

“It was awesome being able to not just play and practice with my teammates again but being able to play in a game,” Gorecki said. “It was really fun. It was way too long [to be out].”   

Senior center Erin Mathias was the only player on the roster to start all three games, and made the most of her extended time on the floor, averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 7.7 boards per game. Davalos and 6-foot-3 freshman Jade Williams each started a game alongside Mathias which could create an imposing frontcourt for opponents during the regular season.   

But the newcomer to have the most success on the stat sheet was freshman guard Mikayla Boykin, who posted 12.7 points per game on 63.0 percent shooting and also dished out 15 assists to lead the team. The Clinton, N.C., native also had seven steals against the Italian All-Stars, when the team finished the rout with 26 steals and a 77-32 advantage on the boards.   

Celje proved to be too much for a tired and shorthanded Blue Devil squad with only three available bench players, though. The Slovenian side rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to outscore Duke 44-25 in the second half. Chidom posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds against her old team.   

“Oderah played well. She has a really strong team,” McCallie said. “We kind of ran out of gas. We had eight people that were playable and they looked like a more seasoned team in the fourth quarter, and that’s when they did some serious damage.”   

Basketball was not the only purpose of the trip, though, and the Blue Devils made time for planned tours of all the cities they visited. The Colosseum and the Pantheon in Rome and St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice were among the attractions the team saw.   

Gorecki called it “one of the coolest trips I’ve ever been on,” and McCallie—who had only briefly been to Italy before when Duke took a trip to France four years ago—could not choose one place as the best part.

“I loved so much of it. I liked the statue of David [in Florence]. I was taken by that, the Basilica, Rome and Venice—and the way Venice is, it’s pretty extraordinary,” McCallie said. “It was hard to pick any favorite, I just thought we hit some really, really good spots.”