ACC play can be competitive and grueling. But this season, the ACC has barely challenged the Blue Devils on court.
Coming off two recent victories against Clemson and Boston College, No. 5 Duke will seek to continue that dominance against against a physical Miami squad Thursday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
In Miami (14-6, 5-4 in the ACC), the Blue Devils (18-1, 8-0) will face a team that lost by two points on a buzzer beater to No. 11 North Carolina in its last game. The last time Duke met the Hurricanes on the court, the then-No. 7 Blue Devils defeated No. 5 Miami 74-64 in February of last season. Coming into another competitive match-up, head coach Joanne P. McCallie has stressed to her team the importance of intensity on the court.
“We’re really trying to improve all areas, mostly rebounding—we’ve been improving in rebounding, getting 17 offensive boards against Boston College being more aggressive that way,” McCallie said. “So there are different things we are looking at, but each game you are trying to get better. The whole idea is improvement and growth. And I saw some great improvement with Boston College, now it would be nice to improve playing a very physical and athletic team like Miami.”
The adversity Duke has encountered so far this season has been a result of a lack of consistent play on both ends of the court. Against then-No. 3 Connecticut, the Blue Devils went into halftime down two points, but ended the game losing by 30. The disparity of play between halves has become a problem for Duke and one that McCallie is actively addressing heading into Thursday’s contest.
“A full 40 minutes is really challenging. You hope to be playing that way soon, but there is no question you are always striving to get a full 40 minutes,” McCallie said. “We haven’t done that yet. We did a little bit better in that against Boston College. But overall I think that’s the nature of basketball: To have fun pursuing standards. That’s the trick of it, and no doubt that’s hard to do.”
Duke has recovered from subpar half performances with exceptional play from its major contributors. Junior guard Tricia Liston, who has assumed a role off the bench recently while she has battled cold symptoms, has averaged 17 points in the past two games. Against Boston College, Liston’s performance was supplemented by guard Chloe Wells, who had 10 points in the first half and 13 in the game. Even though previous starters like Liston have played well all season, McCallie attributed the lineup change to a strategic purpose.
“I don’t really care much about coming off the bench,” McCallie said. “The finishers are the most important thing to me. Right now we have a bit of a smaller, a more athletic, defensive team. The lineups are more about a team concept. There might be some changes in lineup. That’s healthy, that’s good.”
The Blue Devils have taken note of McCallie’s message and are looking to capitalize on a healthy roster contributing to on-court success in order to hit their stride going into heated ACC play.
“I think it’s going to be key to defend and rebound. We’re midway through the ACC season, so we have to start putting together all the pieces,” guard Chelsea Gray said.
Miami boasts two players who average double figures in scoring, Morgan Stroman and Stefanie Yderstrom, and success against the top women’s basketball programs.
The Blue Devils plan to build off strong play from the entire lineup to gain some momentum going into the second half of the ACC season.
“It’s good to have people stepping up as leaders. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with scoring but our team is doing an amazing job of feeding off each other and providing each other with energy,” Gray said. “We have to go out to the games in the same mindset and have that energy to withstand for 40 minutes. That’s when you start to become a good team.”