With the loss of a senior class that posted a four-year ACC record of 60-4, the Duke women’s basketball team is looking to its 10 eligible players to fill the roles once dominated by that three-member class.
Despite the losses, the goals remain the same: win the ACC title and compete for a National Championship. The Blue Devils, however, have a lot of adjusting to do without two-time National Player of the Year and all-time leading scorer Alana Beard.
“When you’re at the top, you are constantly being fought,” said junior Mistie Williams. “Now that we are the underdogs, we can go after those people who are ranked above us... We still have incredible players reader to fight, ready to win.”
Lindsey Harding’s on-the-ball perimeter defense coupled with the Blue Devils’ interior size gives Duke a relatively strong defensive game.
Duke lacks the go-to player that is had the past four seasons, but a core of juniors will provide several proven scoring options. Power forward Monique Currie, point guard Harding and center Williams are the skeleton of Duke’s motion offense. Freshman Laura Kurz, junior Jessica Foley and redshirt sophomore Caitlin Howe, who is healthy for the first time in her three-year Duke career, are perimeter sharpshooters, opening up lanes for slashers Harding and Currie.
“[We are running] three out, two in motion with the post and the high-low post areas and really have been working on our post game and passing the ball inside,” Goestenkors said. “We’re really making that an emphasis of the team this year.”
Duke’s most versatile player, Currie, will assume on-court leadership, a role in which she is only moderately comfortable. Currie, who is a co-captain along with Harding and Howe, was named preseason ACC Player of the Year after earning second-team All-ACC honors last season.
“I think I am really ready to step up into that role and carry the team,” said Currie, who averaged 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. “We are a different team. We have new players and people coming into their roles. So it’s all about coming together and finding that connection, finding that niche that we have. That’s definitely what we are looking for.”
Currie, who can post up, shoot threes and slash to the basket, will factor greatly into both Duke’s expanded motion offense and its post game. On the block, Currie is joined by Williams, freshman Chante Black and sophomore Alison Bales, who was hampered last season by a knee injury. Senior forward Wynter Whitley returns to the team after taking a personal leave in the middle of last season, providing added depth inside.
Black, a 6-foot-5 center, has the potential to be Duke’s best post player ever, Goestenkors said.
“She’s very athletic,” Williams said. “She can post. She can rebound. She has long arms and is going to be amazing.”
To balance this interior play, the team is also concentrating on three-point shooting, a strength of Duke teams in the past. At any given moment, the Blue Devils could have three or four potent long-range shooters on the court, including the 6-foot-1 Kurz, whom Goestenkors recruited primarily for her shooting.
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Duke will have to put together its on-court structure quickly, as it faces early tough matchups against Penn State and Tennessee.
From the absence of Beard to the lower ranking to the new inside-outside balance, Duke will have many adjustments to make to its play and attitude in a season of transition.
“We’ve had such a target on our back, but we won’t have the No. 1 rankings going into the season this year, and it is kind of nice,” Goestenkors said. “We know that people aren’t expecting as much, so this team has the attitude that they want to prove more people wrong. I remember how that used to feel; it’s been a while.”