Conference play usually breeds familiar matchups, but Duke will venture into unfamiliar territory for its next conference game.
The No. 3 Blue Devils will travel to Syracuse, N.Y. to take on the Orange at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Carrier Dome. It will be the first conference home game for Syracuse during its first year in the ACC.
Duke (14-1, 1-0 in the ACC) will face a difficult test in Syracuse (11-3, 0-1), which held a No. 20 ranking prior to its 67-61 loss at N.C. State in its ACC opener. The Blue Devils are well-prepared for the rigors of conference play, thanks to a schedule that has already featured several ranked opponents, said head coach Joanne P. McCallie.
“We played a very, very strong nonconference schedule,” McCallie said. “So for us, there’s not much of a difference. Whether you’re playing Kentucky, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Syracuse—they’re all excellent programs. So for us, we simply press on and continue to try and get better.”
In order to defeat Syracuse, Duke will have to slow down its two primary scoring threats, sophomore guards Brianna Butler and Brittney Sykes. The duo has combined to score almost 35 points per game this season. Butler is a sharpshooter who thrives from beyond the arc, where she is firing at a 39.4 percent clip.
“Butler is tremendous,” McCallie said. “She’ll shoot from anywhere on the floor and she’s always ready to shoot. The big key is to limit her touches and limit her ability to get comfortable, so hopefully our team defense can be a huge part of that.”
Sykes is a versatile threat off the dribble who can also cause damage on the boards, as she is averaging 5.4 rebounds per game.
“Sykes is more off the bounce, more inside the arc,” McCallie said. “She’s very athletic, and she loves her pull-up jump shot. So again, limiting her touches and her comfort zone, contesting her pull-up jumper and keeping her off the boards [are keys to stopping her].”
The Blue Devils will look to repeat their defensive performance from their conference-opening victory against Georgia Tech, where they held the Yellow Jackets to a season-low 47 points and 26 percent shooting from the field. Despite the dominant defensive performance, Duke still lost the battle on the boards—a minor concern for a team that has quality rebounders up and down the roster.
Syracuse’s main inside threat is redshirt senior Shakeya Leary, who is averaging 9.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on the season. At 6-foot-3, her size can cause matchup nightmares for opponents.
Duke junior Elizabeth Williams, who also stands at 6-foot-3, will likely draw the assignment of keeping Leary in check. After a slow start to begin the year, Williams seems to be finding her groove, posting consecutive double-doubles for the first time this year in the last two games. She was an All-American last year, and if she can perform at that level once again, the Blue Devils will be a tough matchup for any opponent moving forward.
“[Williams] learned a lot from the schedule, and she’s excited for ACC play, just excited to take her game to the next level," McCallie said. "She’s playing with a lot of energy and she’s pursuing the ball more, which is fantastic.”