The last time Duke faced a team coached by first-year Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico, the Blue Devils overpowered St. John’s 74-67 in the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Partially attributing the loss to the Red Storm’s failure to manage the pressure put on by Duke, Arico cites handling pressure as the Wolverines’ key focus going into their matchup against the Blue Devils.
Fresh off blowout wins against Valparaiso and Xavier this past weekend, No. 4 Duke hopes to continue its dominant streak against Michigan Wednesday night in Ann Arbor, Mich. for the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“One of the things we really struggle with is pressure and handling pressure,” Arico said. “At St. John’s we had a team that handled pressure extremely well, and we played Duke and did not handle pressure extremely well. I know going in that’s going to be a significant challenge for us.”
Wolverine senior Rachel Sheffer, who leads the team in scoring with an average of 16.0 points per game, noted that the squad has been preparing for that challenge, with emphases on full-court pressure and double and triple-team situations.
Although an unranked Michigan team is the underdog in the contest, the Blue Devils are not overlooking the Wolverines. Duke turned its attention in practice this week to weaknesses exposed in the Xavier game.
“There are a lot of things against Xavier that we didn’t do well and weren’t happy about,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’re working on being more explosive defensively, really rebounding the basketball more aggressively and also contesting some really good shooters.”
Against Michigan—the ninth most efficient three-point shooting team in the country with a three-point field-goal percentage of 41.8 percent—contesting sharp shooters will be critical.
“We have girls that can score off the bench,” Sheffer said. “What makes our team so strong is that we have so many shooters.”
Even more potent from long-range, Duke boasts the highest three-point field-goal percentage in the country, shooting 48.8 percent from behind the arc. The Blue Devils have been paced by their offense this year, which ranks third in the country in scoring. Duke has outscored its opponents by an average of 44 points, good for second in the nation.
“We are going to have a tough time matching up with their size, strength and athleticism,” Arico said. “It’s going to be a really difficult matchup for us, but hopefully we can take care of the ball and have our home-court advantage.”
Another one of Duke’s strengths has been its ball movement. Junior point guard Chelsea Gray is largely responsible for the Blue Devils’ success in this area, with the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation at 7.5.
“We’ve been moving the ball and sharing the ball really well, getting in open spots and running through our offense smoothly,” she said.
The Blue Devils have won 11 of their last 13 matchups with Big Ten opponents, including their past two with the Wolverines. Duke hopes to make a strong showing at the ACC-Big Ten Challenge Wednesday night in a hostile road environment.
“We want to represent our conference well in this type of environment and are really excited to face a team from another big-time conference and handle business out there,” Gray said.