Duke hasn’t lost to Wake Forest since 1996, and until recently, it didn’t look like the Demon Deacons would pull off the upset this year.
Wake Forest (9-6, 2-1 in the ACC) had a five-game losing skid early in the season that included three losses to ranked opponents. After winning seven of their last eight games—including a road matchup against No. 18 Florida State Thursday—and earning an 8-0 record at home, the future is starting to look bright for the Demon Deacons. The No. 4 Blue Devils (14-0, 4-0) will try to hand Wake Forest its first home defeat Sunday afternoon.
“We had a rough patch early, but things are starting to pick up,” Wake Forest senior guard Lakevia Boykin said. “We’re playing very well at home.”
The Demon Deacons, however, know that they have their work cut out for them against Duke.
“Duke is a phenomenal team, and it’s important for us to do what Wake Forest basketball does,” Demon Deacon head coach Jen Hoover said. “We’ve really talked to our players about doing their jobs for 40 minutes, and that’s different for each individual on the team.”
There is one job that the Demon Deacons share—playing team defense. Wake Forest’s defense has been picking up lately, Boykin said. The Demon Deacons have been outscored by a margin of 2.1 points this season, but in their past four games, they have scored an average of 15 points more than their opponents.
“We’ve been focusing on taking what we’ve been putting in defensively for the last three months and tightening things up,” Hoover said. “Our team defense isn’t individually-based. We really trust in each other.”
In addition to having a defensive unit that is on the rise, Wake Forest boasts a versatile roster and a strong transition game, Boykin noted.
The Blue Devils will counter with mixed defenses, which will potentially take the Demon Deacons out of their rhythm. Duke’s mixing of defenses has worked successfully in the past, as exemplified by its ninth-ranked field-goal percentage defense. The Blue Devils have limited their opponents to a 32.4 field-goal percentage this season. After Duke’s 90-53 rout of Boston College Sunday, Eagle head coach Erik Johnson called the Blue Devils “as solid a defensive team as you’re going to see individually and collectively.”
Duke’s defense will be especially important against Boykin, who leads Wake Forest in scoring with 14.5 points per game and added 34 points against the Seminoles last night. Averaging double figures, junior Chelsea Douglas and sophomore Dearica Hamby scored 25 and 23 points, respectively, against Florida State.
The Blue Devils’ scoring offense ranks sixth in the country. With their prolific offense and large defensive arsenal, they will pose the biggest threat that the Demon Deacons have faced at home. Duke is not resting on its laurels, though. The Blue Devils know that they need to play at full intensity for the duration of the game.
“[Florida State] was a terrific game for Wake obviously,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “So if we can’t get excited for Wake there is something wrong with us.”