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Defense lifts Blue Devils after break

Apparently, one half of effort is enough for the women"s basketball team to beat run-of-the-mill ACC foes.

The Blue Devils played two games over the long weekend against hungry opponents who were gunning for the nation"s top team. In both games Duke pulled away in the second half with unmatched intensity on defense that opened up the game. Center Alison Bales and forward Monique Currie have been those driving forces behind Duke"s imposing defense.

Against Virginia Friday, Bales blocked two shots within the first 40 seconds. The 6-foot-7 sophomore picked up two quick fouls, however, and was relegated to the bench after only six minutes. She was forced to watch the remainder of the first half as her team struggled to a meager four-point lead at the break.

In the second half she blocked two more shots, causing Virginia to shift to a more perimeter-oriented offense. This was clearly not a strength for the Cavaliers as they shot 1-for-17 from behind the arc for the game, 0-for-11 after the break.

It was the same story against Georgia Tech Monday as Bales blocked five more shots. She has already surpassed Duke"s single-season record for rejections and it is impossible to tell how many other shots she has influenced.

'I think [Bales] changes just as many shots as she blocks,' head coach Gail Goestenkors said. 'She is mentally in the minds of players. It keeps a lot of players from even going in there.'

After struggling for much of her freshman season with conditioning issues, Bales is now fit and runs the floor well for her size. Barring injury, she will remain a dominant inside presence on defense for the rest of the season.

Currie, the main perimeter force for the Blue Devil defense, had two steals in each game over the long weekend. After lackadaisical first-half efforts in both games, her increased intensity in the second halves inspired the team on both ends of the floor.

'I think now she"s getting the opportunity to show what she can do on her own,' Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said. 'She"s a special player, and tonight she showed that. She stepped up when she needed to.'

Sometimes Currie lacks focus in the beginning of the games against weaker opponents. But when she bears down, her vigor instills fear in her opponents and confidence in her teammates.

'I think we just wanted to get after it more--be more aggressive, get in passing lanes and pressure the ball and just pick up our level of intensity,' Currie said of her team"s effort in the second half.

Without Bales" inside presence, Duke struggled in the first half against Virginia. Cavalier center Brandi Teamer had her way inside against Mistie Williams. With Bales back in the game and Currie playing up to her potential, the Blue Devils blew the doors off of a smaller and less-aggressive Virginia team in the second half.

In the Georgia Tech game, it was not Bales" absence, but rather a lack of effort on the part of the whole Duke team that caused the Blue Devils to dig themselves into a sizeable hole early on.

Duke is somewhat lucky, though, that they were not playing the class of the ACC in these two games. Against better teams, one half of tough defense will not cut it. The Blue Devils have had a bullseye on their heads since taking over the top ranking and should expect a better-than-average effort from their opponent each time they set foot on the floor.

'We"re a great team when we"re a hungry team and when we play with that passion and purpose,' Goestenkors said. 'I think we need to be much more aggressive from the tip. Unfortunately sometimes it takes us a little while to get going. That"s something we have to address.'

If Bales can avoid foul trouble and keep bothering opponents inside, and if Currie can start pressuring on the outside and in transition from the outset, the Blue Devils should have no problem keeping their win streak alive well into the ACC season.

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