Duke women's basketball opens season with Blue/White Scrimmage
Duke, ranked in the top three nationally in every preseason poll released thus far, played four 10-minute quarters Sunday in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils switched the teams for each of the first three quarters before playing against the all-male practice squad in the final quarter. The scrimmage included plenty of turnovers and missed free throws, but also plenty for the team to be encouraged about.
"We're learning how to play together," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "Obviously, we're not there yet. I thought it was good to be out on the floor together, going through things and challenging ourselves. We were out there competing."
Two-time All-American senior Chelsea Gray returned to the court after missing the end of last season due to a dislocated knee. She made her first shot, a deep 3-pointer, and had three assists in the first quarter that saw the likely Duke starters compete against the bench players and prevail 16-7.
"I felt good," Gray said. "It was good to be back out there. I missed it. It was just good to be back out there with my team and really get fired up and get everybody else involved. [My timing] was good, it was better than I expected. It will improve throughout the season."
Redshirt freshman forward Amber Henson also saw playing time throughout the scrimmage, logging nine minutes. Henson has had six surgeries since coming to Duke as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2012 two years ago.
"I'm kind of holding her[back]," McCallie said. "Just giving her a little taste was all we were going to do today. The next two games she should have a little bit more opportunity."
McCallie is referring to the Blue Devils' exhibition games against Glenville State and Coker College before opening the regular season Nov. 10 at California. The Golden Bears were a Final Four team a year ago and have been consistently ranked in the top-15 in preseason polls.
In the second and third quarters of the scrimmage, starters and bench players were split between the two teams, resulting in an 18-18 tie in the second quarter and a highly competitive third quarter eventually won 28-21 by the White team. Duke's chemistry was put to the test in those quarters, and the teams combined for 19 turnovers.
"I think [the team's chemistry is] a work in progress," Gray said. "The different combinations we were able to do each quarter definitely helped with that.... It will just improve these next two games before we really get started."
The star of the scrimmage was sophomore guard Alexis Jones. The lefty showed off an improved jump shot and showed how dangerous she is in transition. Jones scored 18 of her 29 points and only missed one field goal in the second and third quarters while adding six steals.
In the fourth quarter—during which Duke rotated players x and faced off against the practice squad—the Blue Devils fell behind 12-3 before Jones sparked a comeback with three 3-pointers, the last of which put Duke ahead 18-13. The practice squad eventually won the quarter 21-20 on a last-second jumper by Veerain Gupta. Every Blue Devil played in the final frame except for Gray, who McCallie decided to rest.
"Our guys are really nice," Jones said. "They help us out a lot. The point guards are really quick. They really make us play defense which is really good for us.... [In the fourth quarter] we needed to slow down the game and run through our plays so we can hit our options and focus on knocking down our shots."
Though there were bright spots, the team will look to drastically improve in many areas in practice this week. One such area is free throw shooting. In the first quarter, the teams only made four out of 14 attempts from the charity stripe. The percentage rose throughout the rest of the scrimmage, but Duke struggled consistently with ball reversals and post entry passes in all four quarters.
"They were bad and bad," McCallie said. "The post entry passes were very poor. The posts didn't get the ball enough. We'll work on that and clean that up. Ball reversal wasn't very successful either. We didn't get into our sets quick enough.... You'll see great improvement next time around."