WINSTON-SALEM — When 6-foot-7 Alison Bales and 6-foot-3 Mistie Williams took the court for Duke Wednesday night, the center duo and their teammates were facing an undersized Wake frontcourt.
Despite an impressive performance by the Demon Deacon guards, Duke pulled out yet another victory with the help of dominating performances from Bales and Williams under the rim.
For just under five minutes in the first half, Bales and Williams sat on the bench as their teammates relinquished an early 11-point lead. With the game tied at 30, the pair re-entered the action and sparked a 16-point run. Though the Demon Deacons fought back by drawing fouls and using their speed, Duke held the lead for the rest of the fast-paced game.
Bales and Williams scored 21 and 22 points respectively—a career high for Bales and season high for Williams—and racked up 16 rebounds combined.
Coupling Williams’ experience with Bales’ increased agility has created a frontcourt that arguably has been the key to Duke’s somewhat-unexpected No. 1 ranking. The duo, however, had not yet shown their dominance to the degree it did against Wake Forest.
Bales’ size has always made her a strong presence under the basket, but it is her increased athleticism that has given her more offensive confidence. Wednesday night, several of Bales’ seven field goals came on mid-range jumpers. As Wake Forest head coach Mike Petersen said, Duke opposition is better off pressuring Bales to take those 15-foot shoots, rather than letting her control the paint. Bales showed, however, that even this strategy presents a problem for defenses.
In years past, the Duke squad has relied on an outside game, head coach Gail Goestenkors said. But this season, with a short roster and a change in personnel, the Blue Devils were forced to adapt their style of play.
“We have four tremendous post players,” Goestenkors said. “We have been a perimeter-oriented team the last few years, and we decided to take advantage of the post game this year.”
Although the Blue Devils have focused their offense around the paint, the combination threat of Bales and Williams has freed shooters Jessica Foley and Laura Kurz for open three-point looks. Foley went 3-for-6 from long-range and Kurz made her only attempt.
Bales and Williams have been working together in the post during practice, which has certainly improved their flow on the court.
Positioned at the high post for most of the game, Bales had no offensive rebounds but nine defensive rebounds. On the other hand, Williams had a lone defensive rebound but grabbed six offensive boards, many of which she put back for easy baskets.
With upcoming games against No. 9 North Carolina and No. 16 Maryland, Bales and Williams will need to play well or the Blue Devils will be left scrambling around the perimeter and out of their No. 1 ranking.
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