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Post play ails young team

With a few Cameron Crazies cheering furiously, freshman Chante Black walked out onto a newly varnished Coach K Court Friday night as only the seventh freshman to start in a season opener for head coach Gail Goestenkors at Duke. At 6-foot-5, Black towered over the Davidson starters, boasting a three-inch advantage over Wildcat center Katie Delk. With an easy win on the tip, Black deflected the ball to Monique Currie for the Blue Devils’ first offensive possession of the year.

Within seconds, Black collided with Duke guard Jessica Foley, and both players remained down after the play. Foley would not return for a few minutes, but Black would be gone until the second half and received 12 stitches for the gash in her forehead.

And so began the Blue Devils’ 2004-2005 season, with two more starters injured and Goestenkors in a fix.

“That was a little scary for me,” Goestenkors said. “I was looking down the bench, and we just didn’t have any depth.”

The Blue Devils may have opened the year with back-to-back victories in the WNIT, but from Duke’s perspective, there is vast room for improvement.

Against both Davidson and South Florida, the Blue Devils possessed not only more talent but a sizable height advantage. With players like Black and 6-foot-7 Alison Bales, one would expect definite Duke dominance both on the boards and in post play. But against South Florida Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils gave up 24 offensive rebounds while they only grabbed 17 and lost the overall battle on the glass. With teams like No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 21 Penn State on the near horizon, Duke will have to re-evaluate its rebounding game if it expects to start strong this year.

During the Davidson game, the Blue Devils struggled mightily in the post. Up only eight points going into the half, Duke was shooting 47 percent, barely enough to offset the weak play down low. If the Blue Devils are not able to exercise their height advantage to its full potential, they will be overlooking one of their most valuable assets.

“We had the size advantage but didn’t feel like early on we were looking to our post,” Goestenkors said Friday.

Even against South Florida, Duke struggled early in the paint, but this was because of a more athletic and defensively cohesive South Florida team.

While Duke as a whole looked fair, Black and Wanisha Smith stood out in the first two games. Black, racking up a total of 27 rebounds and 15 points, leads the team in total boards. Smith, the freshman point guard filling in for the suspended Lindsey Harding, had 34 points and eight assists in her debut weekend.

Smith has, so far, filled the shoes of Harding, who very well could be the No. 1 point guard in the nation. Something that Smith needs to improve on, however, is her decision-making. With nine turnovers in the first two games, she needs to keep her head up and settle down. Nerves have no doubt been a major contributor to Smith’s limited mistakes, and with exceptional court vision and fast transition play, she has assimilated well into the Blue Devil lineup.

But turnovers were the Achilles heel in the first two games for Duke. With a glaring 38 turnovers so far, the Blue Devils must improve their execution and passing. South Florida scored 19 points off Duke turnovers, but the Blue Devils answered with 20 points off South Florida giveaways. Goestenkors knows better than anyone that her team won’t be able to match that against more established opponents, and Duke cannot expect to win big games if it is turning the ball over more than 20 times.

One of those big tests is coming Wednesday night in South Bend, Ind., when Duke plays Notre Dame in the next round of the WNIT.

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