The independent news organization of Duke University

Season tips off with trip to WNIT semis

The No. 6 women’s basketball team notched two blowout victories this weekend against unranked opponents in the opening rounds of the WNIT.

After completing exhibition play last week, Duke (2-0) began its regular season with a contest against Davidson (0-1) at Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday. Forward Mistie Williams and co-captain Monique Currie each tallied 20 points as the Blue Devils knocked Davidson out of the tournament with a commanding 89-69 win.

Duke faced the University of Southern Florida (1-1) in the second round Sunday. Freshman guard Wanisha Smith led the Blue Devils to an 82-50 victory after the team got off to a sluggish start.

“I feel good,” Goestenkors said. “[These games] were a great learning experience for us, and we’re definitely going to get better.”

No. 10 Notre Dame awaits Duke in the third round of the tournament. The Blue Devils will travel to South Bend, Ind., for the semifinals Wednesday night.

Point guard Lindsey Harding has yet to return after head coach Gail Goestenkors suspended her indefinitely. Harding has run the point for the Blue Devils the last two seasons, and with no experienced point guard to replace her, Smith and junior Jessica Foley have been sharing the duties.

In recent exhibition games, Goestenkors has experimented with Smith at the point. Despite solid scoring totals, she had failed to distribute the ball effectively and tally assists. During the two weekend games, however, Smith recorded nine assists and 34 points.

“I was making an effort to find open players,” Smith said. “I was trying to be aggressive with the ball and attack their defenses.”

In the limited time both Foley and Smith spent on the floor together, Smith did the majority of the ball handling. Goestenkors made no indications about future plans at the point position, including no information about the return of All-American candidate Harding.

Moments into Friday night’s game against the Wildcats, Foley and freshman forward Chante Black banged heads in an incident that sent both players to the floor writhing in pain. Both would return to the game, but Black received 12 stitches in her forehead. In just 23 minutes of play in her first Duke game, Black turned in an impressive performance with 14 rebounds and 4 blocks.

“She’s tough,” Goestenkors said. “She did an excellent job, especially from coming back from getting stitches.”

Even with Black’s strong debut, the Blue Devils did not play as well as they had hoped, committing 21 turnovers and struggling to set up their offense.

“I think we’re going to be a good transition team,” Goestenkors said. “I think we were a little bit nervous and tightened up a bit because we missed shots that we make every day.”

Duke entered Sunday afternoon’s game, also at Cameron, hoping to improve its play after the lackluster effort Friday. But in the opening minutes, the fast-paced Bulls caught the Blue Devils off guard and jumped out to a 10-2 lead.

“We were really disappointed with the way we played against Davidson,” Foley said. “It would have been nice to stamp our authority on the game early.”

Foul trouble for Black and a couple of turnovers by Smith forced Goestenkors to pull both freshmen three minutes into the game.

“I think maybe ’Nish was a little bit nervous and had some quick turnovers so we had to take her out,” Goestenkors said. “When I put them both back in we started to move the ball a lot better.”

After the early woes, Smith took control of the game. With Duke trailing by three midway through the first half, the team mounted a rally and Smith stole the ball from USF standout Andrea Gilmore. The point guard then ran the length of the court and sank a layup while drawing a foul. She sank the free throw to finish the three-point play and level the score at 12.

“I’m pleased with our effort,” Goestenkors said. “I thought we played harder, and I thought we played smarter than in the Davidson game. We did a great job sharing the basketball and giving our posts some looks.”

 

NOTES

Smith’s 34 points were the most a Duke freshman has scored in her first two games since Alana Beard scored 35 in 2000.... After sitting out Friday night with an ankle injury, senior Wynter Whitley returned to play eight minutes against USF.... Freshman Laura Kurz notched her first Duke points with five in the second half Sunday.... USF pulled down 24 offensive rebounds, but converted on only four.... Black injured her right ankle rebounding a ball in the closing minutes Sunday. Her status for Wednesday’s game is uncertain.... Duke shot 83 percent (43-of-52) from the free throw line over the weekend, including 11-for-13 from Smith.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Season tips off with trip to WNIT semis” on social media.