Elizabeth Williams continued to play well in limited time as she recovers from a foot stress fracture.
Elizabeth Williams continued to play well in limited time as she recovers from a foot stress fracture.

Duke has yet to find a significant challenge early this season.

In two games, against Valparaiso at Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday and at Xavier Sunday, that trend continued. Duke defeated Valparasio 90-45 and Xavier 82-59.

Head coach Joanne P. McCallie has stressed to her team the importance of hustle and effort on the court above traditional metrics such as points and assists. Rebounding and physical defensive play helped to separate No. 4 Duke from its opponent in both contests.

“We have emphasized and we’ve talked about, you’ve got to do the dirty work. It’s kind of substance over style,” McCallie said. “We’ve got a lot of style points because we’ve got a lot of great players, but that’s not what’s going to take you to the promised land, substance is. Having that many offensive rebounds in the second half indicates what we can do. And once you start doing those things, it becomes a habit.”

Early in both games, the Crusaders and Musketeers matched Duke’s scoring until the physical disparity between the two teams shifted control of the contests to the Blue Devils (4-0), who went on a 29-4 run against Valparaiso and 19-2 against Xavier in the first half.

Against Valparaiso, Duke’s 24 offensive and 33 defensive rebounds created second chance opportunities that the Blue Devils capitalized on. Despite only shooting 40 percent from the floor during the second half, Duke maintained its lead through aggressive rebounding and defense, which included 15 steals and no Crusader scoring in double figures.

“[We] got after some things we needed to get after, relative to being aggressive on the boards,” McCallie said. “We’re working on things. I thought there was great leadership out there.”

Guard Tricia Liston grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds and scored 17 points for her second career double-double. In addition to Liston’s contributions, forward Elizabeth Williams continued her recovery from a stress fracture in her foot with 18 points and eight rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.

Despite the improvement in rebounding, the intensity from Friday’s game did not translate directly to the Blue Devils’ first road game of the season against Xavier. Foul trouble and a lack of strong rebounding hampered Duke’s ability to pull away from the Musketeers early.

The Blue Devils’ depth, however, at multiple positions proved overwhelming for Xavier, which had only one player, guard Ashley Wanninger, score in double figures.

“We didn’t do a great job of making contact and getting the ball rebounded,” forward Haley Peters said. “It was good to play against some post players that were bigger sized for us to start to work on boxing out.”

Guard Chelsea Gray led Duke in scoring with 22 points and and 10 assists, impressing both her coach and teammates.

“[She was] very poised, very experienced, very veteran. Chelsea was in control of that game, and I think that was important for a point guard,” McCallie said.

Gray’s backcourt partner, freshman guard Alexis Jones, had a strong performance in the first road game of her career at Duke, scoring 14 points and pressuring Xavier’s guards. In the post, Williams was a stronger presence than against Valparaiso, notching 16 points in 26 minutes of play.

“I was happy how this team prepared overall. I thought we had some really good leadership, and the team was ready to go,” McCallie said.

The Blue Devils next contest against Michigan in the Big 10/ACC Showdown will be another early test for McCallie and her team. The games this weekend highlighted some areas that Duke plans to focus in on heading into Wednesday’s away game.

“I think we have stuff we can sharpen up, defensively and with rebounding, and those are the things we have talked about all season but are going to be really important as we start to get closer to conference play,” Peters said. “We just need to be sharp and be physical and be able to dictate in the paint and on the boards.”