The Blue Devils limp into their home finale Thursday after losing their fifth guard this year.
Duke will celebrate Senior Night as it takes on Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The No. 7 Blue Devils will once again have to reconfigure their lineup after sophomore point guard Alexis Jones tore her ACL in Sunday's loss to Notre Dame.
“[We’ve lost] four guards, and if you count [freshman Rebecca Greenwell], who’s been sitting out, it’s five guards total. This is unique,” McCallie said. “This is not something to look at lightly. This is something to look at as fascinating how anything like that could happen. I’ve never seen anything like it, there’s no precedent for it, on the men’s side [or] on the women’s side. You’d have to do some serious homework to find what team in the country has lost five guards.”
Jones is Duke’s latest guard to end her season with the Blue Devils early. Freshman Kianna Holland transferred to Ohio State midway through the year, Greenwell redshirted after a offseason surgery, and seniors Chelsea Gray and Chloe Wells will also finish the season on the bench due to injury.
Both Jones and Gray were key elements of Duke’s offense, averaging 13.1 and 10.8 points per game, respectively. Their absence, along with their other teammates, leaves the Blue Devils (24-4, 11-3 in the ACC) with a nearly empty backcourt. After jumping out to a 21-1 start, Duke is 3-3 in its last six games. Junior Ka’lia Johnson and seniors Tricia Liston and Richa Jackson will have to step up to fill in as the team's floor general.
“Tricia, Ka’lia and Richa will all at various times run the point guard spot,” McCallie said. “It’s like anything else, I’m excited about what we can become, but it’s a new season, it’s a new team. We’re going to really focus on the great talent that we have and go from there.”
Despite their recent troubles, the Blue Devils enter Thursday’s game riding a 39-game winning streak against the Demon Deacons (14-13, 5-9). For the streak to continue Duke will have to limit junior workhorse Dearica Hamby, who leads the ACC with 21.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
The team’s adjustments come at a critical time with the impending ACC and NCAA tournaments. The final two games will determine whether Duke or N.C. State secures the second seed in the ACC tournament. With a perfect 14-0 conference record, Notre Dame has already secured the top spot.
"The only goal we have is to win the regular season, pursue national championships and win the ACC tournament,” McCallie said. “I don’t think [seeding is] very relevant. We haven’t been able to secure the regular season. I’m not a big fan of seeds. I don’t really care after the top seed.”
With the thinning of their backcourt, the Blue Devils will continue to have to play through the post in their upcoming outings, with redshirt freshman Amber Henson and freshman Oderah Chidom expected to play larger roles in the offense.
“We definitely are going to play from the inside-out even more so,” McCallie said. “We’ll have a bigger lineup, and we certainly hope our offensive rebounding will really grow and improve. [I’m] hoping our free-throw attempts will improve by us being aggressive on the boards, by us using a bigger lineup and really getting after it."
Although Thursday marks the last home game of the regular season and will feature Senior Night honors, in reality the Blue Devils are guaranteed at least one more game in Cameron Indoor when they play host during the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. That knowledge takes some of the pressure off of the night.
“We absolutely love our seniors. At the same time, we’re very fortunate that we’re hosting [the NCAA tournament]. I think it’s different in terms of that will not be our last game in Cameron,” McCallie said. “For us, we want to honor our seniors, we love our seniors, but especially given this new team developing, we’re really excited for the game. Just excited to play, excited to find out what we can do.”