If you’re the head coach of a Division II team, even one that won the national championship last season, it’s difficult preparing for No. 3 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. If your championship squad lost eight players and returns just one starter, it’s nearly impossible. If four of your five current starters are sidelined and you have just seven players available to play, you might resort to meteorology.
“My first thing was I kept looking at the weather,” Shaw head coach Jacques Curtis said. “I was hoping that storm was going to swing around.”
Unfortunately for Curtis, Hurricane Sandy stayed well north of Durham, so his Lady Bears were indeed forced to take the court Tuesday night against the Blue Devils in the exhibition opener for both teams. Duke ran out to a 30-0 advantage in the first nine minutes and built a lead that surpassed the century mark by the end of the 138-32 rout.
Shaw was obviously outmanned from the opening tip, with only one player in uniform—a freshman—over six feet tall and three players 5-foot-6 or shorter.
Unsurprisingly given their size advantages, the Blue Devils dominated the game on the boards, pulling down 72 rebounds, including 30 off the offensive glass. Shaw managed just 26 total rebounds on the night.
Duke posted this outstanding rebounding performance without its star center Elizabeth Williams, who sat out the contest with stress fracture issues that have lingered since the end of last season. Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said that Williams will be sidelined indefinitely to allow the fracture to heal completely.
“The soreness has come back. I won’t be able to even comment on Elizabeth day-to-day,” McCallie said. “She’s going to be out for a while, and we’re going to try to heal her.... It’s healing, but it’s not healing enough. And I can’t stand dragging her through this two days on, three days off. We’re not going to get into that kind of cycle with a player like Elizabeth.”
Even without Williams, the Lady Bears focused their defense in the paint to stop the much bigger Duke squad, and the Blue Devil perimeter shooters had a field day. The team shot 11-for-19 from beyond the arc, led by Tricia Liston’s 7-for-8 performance. Liston missed just two of her 15 field goal attempts, scoring 36 points and adding 12 rebounds to post one of four Duke double-doubles. Haley Peters notched 18 points and 15 rebounds, Allison Vernerey chipped in 15 points and 11 boards, and Chelsea Gray added 10 assists to her 20-point scoring effort to round out the quartet. All eight Blue Devils who played scored, and seven of those ended up with 15 or more tallies. The eighth player drew perhaps the biggest applause, as walk-on sophomore Jenna Frush—who played just 26 minutes last season—drained a 3-pointer in the game’s final minute.
“By God, she was going to keep shooting until she hit one,” McCallie said.
Despite Duke’s dominance, neither team dropped its intensity level throughout the 40 minutes of play. Curtis kept his team from being discouraged even as it failed to score for nearly nine minutes by breaking the game down into 10 “segments” between the automatic television timeouts.
“We couldn’t get caught up in what the score was,” Curtis said. “When we came here, we weren’t saying, ‘Hey, we need to win this game.’ We had our mini-goals. So after we lost that first segment, it’s ‘We’re going to the next segment.’ That’s the only way you can keep kids focused on what’s happening.”
As the end of the first half approached, Curtis’ squad even forced an angry McCallie to call timeout after Shaw converted back-to-back baskets bookending a Duke turnover. Although Duke’s lead remained comfortable at 63-18, McCallie was unhappy with a perceived loss of concentration.
“Something happened that was just looking mysteriously casual,” McCallie said. “I think you’ve got to catch a team being casual. There’s just no space for it. The level that we’re trying to play is really hard and it takes a lot of energy and effort.” Despite the momentary lapse, McCallie was also pleased with the versatility her players exhibited.
“One of the things we’re really trying to be is a versatile team, and not locked in by position,” she said. “I think we’ve got a lot of different people that can go different places.”
She mentioned specifically that Peters can play both in the post and on the perimeter, that Liston can handle any position on the floor besides center, and emphasized that moving Gray between the two guard spots will simultaneously make her more difficult to guard and give talented freshman point guard Alexis Jones a chance to contribute.
Although Jones made a few “freshman mistakes” in the exhibition contest, she also showed flashes of stardom leading the offense in transition.
The lopsided outcome did not prevent both teams from coming away pleased with their efforts.
“We did some good things, and we did some bad things, but I don’t think anyone just gave up,” senior Shaw guard Crystal Wilson said.