Fresh off a disappointing loss against No. 1 Connecticut Tuesday night, No. 2 Duke defeated an unranked Albany squad 80-51 Thursday but had to work through a first-half scare in which the Blue Devils trailed the Great Danes for the majority of the opening stanza.
Focus and effort were the major issues for Duke Thursday night, as they has been all season. The Blue Devils were able to rally after Albany (8-1) led 20-13 with 7:53 left in the first half, finishing on a 15-2 run.
The Great Danes' Shereesha Richards was the reason for Albany's early lead notching 20 of her 24 points in the first half. The Blue Devils did not seem to have an answer for Richards early on the defensive end at first, but once Duke found one, the game quickly became one-sided.
Although the loss to Connecticut did not seem to weigh on the minds of the players, the lack of intensity on the court gave the Great Danes a chance to command the first 12 minutes of the game.
“I think we just weren’t focused. Credit to [Shereesha Richards], she had 20 of their points in the first half," senior guard Chelsea Gray said. "We had to pick it up defensively. I don’t think we were thinking about past games, we just weren’t focused and defending as well as we should have.”
Senior forward Haley Peters led Duke (11-1) in scoring with 17 points followed by 12 from Gray and Richa Jackson respectively. Senior guard Tricia Liston was noticeably quiet in her 20 minutes of play scoring just 5 points and grabbing zero rebounds in the contest.
Jackson benefited from the lackluster performance from Liston, receiving the start in the second half and the majority of minutes for the rest of the game. The Blue Devils remained focused on how they could learn from Tuesday night's blowout loss, and the shift in rotation, according to head coach Joanne P. McCallie, was a result of trying to communicate those messages to her players.
"If you’re not going to rebound, we’re going to move you. I mean, there’s just no way. It’s too competitive," McCallie said. "Most of [what we need to do to be better] is hustle plays and rebounding and these intangible things, so we’re going to get after it. [Liston] is a great player, she didn’t have a great day, and if she’s not going to rebound, that might happen.”
The difference in the second half came with increased defensive efficiency opening up the offensive game for Duke. Despite improving on the offense as the game progressed, the Blue Devils gave away 22 turnovers in the contest and had no player grab more than five rebounds.
That lack of consistent play had allowed Connecticut to jump out to an early lead Tuesday, and with Albany, Duke faced the same slow start, but the Blue Devils were able to recover against the Great Danes.
"If we’re not scoring, our defense should be sharper. And when our defense is sharper, that should feed us on offense," senior forward Haley Peters said.
"We just weren’t focused, and I don’t know that it was because we were missing shots, I think it was just a general thing."
Heading into a weekend matchup against No. 4 Kentucky, Duke will need to play as they did in the second half against Albany. Having lost to the Wildcats on the road 75-62 Dec. 8, 2012, most of the Blue Devils already know the level of urgency they'll need to bring to Lexington.
"We’ve already been to Kentucky. We didn’t play a great game," McCallie said. "We all remember, we all played at Kentucky before, and we didn’t play a great game. So we get another opportunity. That’s good. But I feel we’re experienced, and we’re used to that.”