In its first contest since clinching the ACC regular season title, No. 5 Duke travels to Coral Gables, Fla. to take on a Miami team in search of a win to solidify its NCAA tournament resume.
The teams met in Durham in January, when a sluggish Blue Devil start and hot Miami shooting led to a 29-29 halftime score.
“We didn’t do anything in the first half. We didn’t attack, we didn’t compete, and we didn’t contest,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
After intermission, the Blue Devils (26-1, 16-0 in the ACC) ramped up their focus and energy, outscoring the Hurricanes 53-14 in the second half en route to an 82-43 win, forcing 22 turnovers in the contest.
“We came into it trying to pick up the intensity on defense, trying to force more turnovers and get some offense off that,” junior guard Tricia Liston said.
The Hurricanes (18-9, 9-7) were led by junior Krystal Saunders, who knocked down five 3-pointers, all in the first half, while leading scorers Morgan Stroman and Stefanie Yderstrom, who lead the team with 12.9 and 12.2 points per game, respectively, were limited to a combined seven points.
“They have excellent three-balls, so you’ve got to locate them, spot up, and contest them, especially in transition,” McCallie said of Stroman and Yderstrom.
In Sunday’s tilt with then-No.8 Maryland, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, Duke lost the battle of the boards 33-30. Miami presents another challenging matchup down low, averaging 43.1 boards per contest.
“They’ve got some good depth [at the post] position, and they all bang and play physically,” McCallie said.
At 6-foot-6, junior Hurricane center Shawnice Wilson is among the nation’s tallest players. Liston embraced the challenge of dealing with such impressive size in the paint.
“It’s definitely good practice, because you’re going to see teams down the road with big players like that—[Baylor center] Brittney Griner for example—but you can’t let it alter your shot too much,” Liston said. “You’ve still got to attack the basket, look to get foul calls, but also know when you have to pass, know when you have to shoot your floater.”
Tonight’s game is Duke’s third since the loss of junior floor general Chelsea Gray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury Feb. 17 against Wake Forest. McCallie noted that reserve players have had chances to fill Gray’s large shoes, and that regrouping is akin to starting a new season.
“I have a lot of faith in everybody,” McCallie said. “I don’t feel like we need to go down at all when there’s a sub, and quite frankly maybe can elevate.”
Liston, who along with Alexis Jones has assumed increased ball-handling responsibilities in Gray’s absence, echoed that sentiment.
“Everyone’s just had to have more confidence, be willing to take shots and make plays for other people off the bounce like Chelsea used to do,” Liston said.
Duke is 2-0 without Gray, with both wins against ranked opponents—the Blue Devils round out the regular season with Miami and No. 15 North Carolina. McCallie said the backloaded schedule serves as excellent preparation for the NCAA tournament.
Above all, McCallie is looking for consistent play from her team as it gears up for postseason play.
“No matter where we play—anytime, anyplace, anywhere—[we want] to bring that [A-game] and compete.”