Last time the No. 5 Blue Devils took the floor, things were different—Chelsea Gray was in the starting lineup. But the junior will be sidelined for the rest of the season after dislocating her right kneecap in the team’s 81-70 win against Wake Forest last weekend.
Duke will need to adjust quickly this weekend, taking on on No. 19 Florida State (20-5, 10-4) Friday night at home and then playing No. 8 Maryland (21-4, 12-2) Sunday.
Florida State features a well-balanced attack that currently leads the conference in scoring offense, averaging 79.7 points per game. Duke ranks second at 76.4 points per game. Duke, however, ranks first in the conference in scoring defense, holding its opponents to 50.3 points per game. The Seminoles yield 65.5 points per game, fourth-worst in the ACC.
The Seminoles come to Durham after taking down No. 14 North Carolina in Tallahassee, Fla. last weekend. The victory marked the first time Florida State has beaten a top 15 team in the country since 2010.
After Friday night’s game, the Blue Devils will travel to No. 8 Maryland to take on the revenge-seeking Terrapins, who Duke defeated 71-56 last Monday. Maryland will look to junior Alyssa Thomas to come up big against the Blue Devils. Thomas is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Maryland head coach Brenda Frese praised the All-American’s poise and leadership on the floor for the Terrapins.
“She is the most competitive player I have ever coached, which says a lot in terms of all the talented players I have coached…This season, what specifically stands apart is her leadership,” Frese said. “She has a tremendous hold on the game and can do whatever we need her to fit in, she brings her double doubles about every game.”
Last time the teams faced off, Thomas recorded a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. In that game, Gray came up big for Duke, amassing 28 points along with four steals in her 34 minutes on the court.
When asked about the impact of Gray’s absence this time the teams meet, Frese offered her sincerest condolences on the injury.
“When I heard it and watched it, our hearts go out to her and the Duke team.” Frese said. “Chelsea is an outstanding player….We had [the same injury] happen to one of our players, Tierney [Pfirman].”
Although Duke’s standout point guard will not be on the floor Sunday, Frese knows that Duke will still present a formidable challenge because of its depth that is capable of replacing Gray.
“It’s tough when that happens, we have also faced injuries.... [Duke] will find a way to adjust. They have a roster full of All-Americans that will step up and play for her…They will develop their team further…other people will have to really step up and fill Chelsea’s void.”
Last time the Blue Devils tipped off against the Terrapins, an extremely passionate Frese was ejected from the game after growing increasingly frustrated with the referees during the game. Frese was thrown out of the game after being assessed a double technical foul late in the second half. The double-technical marked the coach’s first ejection of her 14-year career.
“There was a lot of adversity in that game,” Frese said. “I am disappointed at the outcome there. Any time I see a play that was an illegal play that could have injured our players, I am going to fight for us…[Me being ejected definitely] turned the game, but that’s out of our control.”
And for a Duke team that is now fighting adversity of its own, players such as Chloe Wells, Alexis Jones and Richa Jackson will have to step up in place of Gray.
“It hurt us a little bit but we have to bounce back, we have no choice but to bounce back,” Jackson said. “We have something to play for…. Us coming together and playing for her, I think that’ll make her happy and us as well.”