After netting a combined 256 points in only two exhibition games, head coach Joanne P. McCallie and the Blue Devils are looking forward to tipping off against some real competition this weekend.
Duke (0-0) will take on Presbyterian Saturday at 7 p.m. and Iona Sunday at 2 p.m., with both contests taking place in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I’m just excited for our first official game,” junior guard Chelsea Gray said.
Entering the season, the Blue Devils are still short several starters, as the injury bug has hit Duke hard this year. Luckily, the Blue Devils have a relatively soft schedule in the first several weeks of November and December, and their absence will not be detrimental.
“We’re very excited to play and work on things,” McCallie said. “It’s been very, very good for us, this schedule, relative to getting people healed up.”
The Blue Devils should be able to have their way with Presbyterian (1-1) and Iona (2-0) on the boards, with the teams boasting only two and three players, respectively, above 6-feet-tall on their team.
Junior forward Haley Peters has spent most of her time hauling in the rebounds for Duke. Against Queens and Shaw, Peters grabbed 21 and 18 rebounds, respectively, and should be able to replicate these numbers against smaller teams.
“Those rebounding numbers, our defensive pressure and making sure we go inside and out is going to be consistent every game, no matter who we play,” Gray said.
Gray and fellow junior guard Tricia Liston led the team in scoring in the preseason, with Gray putting up 24 points against Queens and Liston dropping 36 points against Shaw.
Liston is a three-point specialist, which showed in the preseason, where she went a combined 8-for-10 from behind the arc.
Gray, on the other hand, is a strong, fast ball handler who can not only set herself up for a jumper in the lane, but is also unselfish with the ball, as she led the Blue Devils in assists last season. Gray has been the driving force behind the Blue Devils, translating her experience and energy into leadership on the court.
“I think naturally a point guard is supposed to be a leader because they control everything out there on the court,” Gray said. “They’re the coach on the court. They have to make sure everything’s running smoothly.”
Duke has not been all offense, with its defense shutting down opponents in the preseason. The Blue Devils held Queens and Shaw to 11.4 and 20.6 percent shooting from the field, respectively.
“Defensively, we’d like to use our athleticism more. We feel like we’re a stronger team but we’ve got to apply that,” McCallie said. “So look for that in defense, look for that in rebounding.”
Presbyterian is a small college, but in their season-opener against Clemson, they showed that they will not be intimidated by any ACC teams. The Blue Hose took down the Tigers 49-46, winning the game on a buzzer-beating three pointer.
Senior guard Dria David, who scored the game winning shot as time expired against Clemson, leads Presbyterian. Dria is the workhorse of the team, leading them in scoring with 19 points against the Tigers while playing a team-leading 37 minutes.
“Presbyterian is a neat team in the sense [that] they play so many high quality opponents,” McCallie said. “They’re well coached, a very fundamental team, a team where everyone can kind of shoot and pass.”
Presbyterian took down Clemson with suffocating defense. The Blue Hose were stingy with their closeout perimeter defense, with the Tigers going 0-11 from downtown.
The Blue Devils will have little time to reflect on Saturday’s game as they have to turn around and play Iona.
Iona will come into Sunday’s contest with an abundance of confidence, after beating Navy in their season opener, then defeating Long Beach State on a last second put-back by freshman forward Joy Adams.
The Gaels are led by offensive standout and reigning MAAC Freshman of the Year, sophomore guard Damika Martinez. Martinez is averaging 24 points per contest and does so through efficiency. She is shooting .486 percent from the field and an even .500 from behind the arc while also averaging 7.5 rebounds per game.
The quick turnaround should serve as a good time to test the Blue Devils’ conditioning and willpower, as the bench will be short on replacements. Both Gray and McCallie cited the tournament-feel of playing two games within 24 hours.
“We’ve worked on these things, and it gets us prepared for the rest of the season, like the ACC Tournament,” Gray said. “That’s three days in a row.”