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Blue Devils hunt for victory over Lady Lions

 

Alana Beard makes her return to Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight, but this time as a fan.

Beard will be honored at a halftime ceremony as the No. 6 Blue Devils (2-1) try to rebound from Wednesday night’s disappointing loss to No. 10 Notre Dame against another top-25 opponent, No. 21 Penn State.

“Hopefully it will make us more determined,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said of Wednesday’s loss. “I would like to play right now. I want to get it out of my system so I’m glad we’re playing on Friday so we’ll see what we’re made of.”

After graduating Beard from last year’s Elite Eight team, Duke, hampered by injuries and a suspension this season, has been forced to overwork returning stars Monique Currie and Mistie Williams. In the loss to the Fighting Irish, Duke held the lead into the second half, but the Blue Devils’ foul trouble and fatigue allowed Notre Dame to take control and win the game by 11.

The shorthanded Blue Devils, who are likely to be without their suspended star Lindsey Harding, will once again need to rely on freshman Wanisha Smith to run the point.

“Wanisha Smith is doing an excellent job,” Penn State associate head coach Annie Troyan said. “I don’t think they lose that much ground in that respect, but Harding is really a step quicker.”

With just 48 hours to turn the team around and prepare for a challenging Lady Lions team, the Blue Devils have also listed freshman center Chante Black as questionable for tonight’s game. Black injured her ankle Sunday and sat out against Notre Dame, leaving the majority of the rebounding duty to sophomore Alison Bales.

“We obviously missed Chante’s 14 rebounds per game,” Goestenkors said. “She’s an excellent rebounded for us and we missed her depth.”

The Lady Lions are also fresh off a loss after falling to No. 3 Texas, 69-84, as they await the return of head coach of 25 years, Rene Portland. The coach was hospitalized after a fainting spell last week.

The Lady Lions knocked Notre Dame out of the NCAA Tournament last year, but like Duke, lost three of their key players to graduation and are coping with inexperience.

“We are just trying to get better every game,” Troyan said. “Our posts are passing the ball a lot more than they did last year. We have a whole lot of nice things that we can build on.”

Penn State’s senior guards Tanisha Wright and Jess Strom netted 30 and 18 points, respectively, against Texas and played the entire game. The pair was hardly assisted by their teammates, who scored a combined 21 points.

In tonight’s battle, plenty of questions remain for both inexperienced teams. For the Lady Lions, the guards will have to pressure the ball more and will have to come together to play better defense, Troyan said.

“We are dealing with some inexperience,” Troyan said. “On both ends we need to pick up the intensity a little bit.”

Williams, Smith and Currie will have had one day to recover from playing 34 minutes or more each against Notre Dame. Similarly, Penn State—notably Wright and Strom, who played full games—will also face fatigue. Duke forward/center Wynter Whitley has been slowed by an ankle ailment this season, and Goestenkors indicated she would not force Whitley to play more minutes at this point in the season.

“We have to go out there and be focused,” Currie said. “We need to be ready for [Penn State].”

Jake Poses and Gregory Beaton contributed to this story.

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