After an intrasquad scrimmage and an exhibition game to fix any preseason errors, Duke will finally get a taste of a game that counts.

The Blue Devils will open up their season Sunday afternoon at Grand Canyon at 4 p.m. at the GCU Arena in Phoenix. Duke will hope to carry its intensity into the season opener, as the Blue Devil defense was effective in the preseason. Against Alaska Anchorage, the Blue Devils only allowed seven fast-break points, which helped Duke blow out the Seawolves by more than 30. 

“We’re really excited to travel again as a team,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We just have to bring our intensity, immediacy, smarts and every aspect of our game to wherever we play.”

The Grand Canyon offense will challenge the Blue Devils significantly more than the Seawolves did, meaning Duke’s defense needs to be disciplined. In the Antelopes' most recent exhibition game, four different players scored in double figures, led by senior Brie Mobley with 21. 

“Grand Canyon is one of the most improved teams I’ve ever seen, from last year struggling to this year having a lot of great players and a new coaching staff,” McCallie said. “The film I’ve watched so far has been very impressive. They’re executing a lot of sets, and we’re gonna have to be spot on on team defense and then of course be very attacking in transition.”

McCallie's teams press frequently on defense, a style that forced Alaska Anchorage to commit 20 turnovers. Duke’s athleticism and speed make it difficult for most teams to keep up in the open court, which allows the Blue Devils to control the tempo. 

“We like our presses—there are a number of them. Hopefully we can pick and choose and keep the pressure on the ball,” McCallie said. “We’ve been really working on closing gaps and shutting down opportunities for the offense.”

The Antelopes took care of the ball well in their exhibition, only allowing six points off turnovers. Duke will have to work to force errors and get out in transition after its halfcourt offense appeared somewhat stagnant against the Seawolves last Sunday. 

“It’s important to have the discipline to set up our offense and make sure we get great ball reversal and get more than one shot at the basket,” McCallie said. “We do love to run and create in transition, but at the same time, you have to execute on the court-on-court.”

Duke's offensive sets have been plagued by turnovers for the last several years, and the same Achilles' heel resurfaced this preseason. Between the Blue-White scrimmage and the exhibition against Alaska Anchorage, the Blue Devils have given the ball away 59 times, a number too high for a legitimate Final Four contender. 

“We’ve got to really be sharp with the ball and really take care of it,” McCallie said. “We have to slow down a little bit on offense and leave all that crazy pace to our defense.”

With a pair of proven backcourt stars in Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown, Duke will look to use its season opener to develop chemistry in its frontcourt between sophomore Leaonna Odom and senior Erin Mathias. Both bigs dominated the paint against Alaska Anchorage—Odom scored 15 points with eight rebounds and Mathias finished with five rebounds and four blocks. 

Although the duo is not the focal point of the Blue Devils' offense, Odom and Mathias showed glimpses of what could be an effective set in the future by passing to each other from the post. Not many teams have enough size to match up with Mathias and block her passing lanes or enough athleticism to keep Odom from getting open. 

If the bigs start to play off each other, Duke’s frontcourt would become a dominant force to accompany one of the best backcourts in the nation.

“[Odom and Mathias] are coming along nicely. Leaonna is very effective and Erin can play inside and out,” McCallie said. “We’re a work in progress there, but the key thing is to get on the blocks and play from the inside out as much as possible.”