During past seasons, the women’s basketball team had a few powder-puff ACC opponents to roll over after a tough game with North Carolina.
But that is not the case this year in the conference with the highest RPI in the nation and five teams in the top 25. Just three days after losing in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils, top-ranked for the moment, take on an up-and-coming No. 20 Maryland team tonight at 7 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Maryland is also feeling the effect of playing in what Duke coach Gail Goestenkors calls the best conference in America. The Terps fell to No. 25 N.C. State, the Blue Devils’ next opponent, 67-55 at home Sunday.
“It is really difficult,” Goestenkors said. “There is no time to worry about the past because you have to focus to what is ahead. Both of us are upset with the way we played in recent games. I think it will be a huge battle.”
Both teams are coping with injuries during their critical stretches, but while Duke has settled into its rotation of eight players, Maryland has been prone to scoring droughts that head coach Brenda Frese attributes to injuries.
Shay Doron and Kalika France, the Terps’ sophomore guard duo, have been banged up in recent weeks. Doron is averaging 19.5 points per game despite sitting out of practice for the past two weeks with shoulder trouble.
“Right now we are trying to find our offense, and we are really struggling to get in some offensive rhythm,” Frese said. “We are also still really young, and you can see that in the turnovers and the decisions that we make.”
When the Terps played Duke in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament last season, they were a guard-oriented team, led by Doron and France. With the addition of freshman Crystal Langhorne—who has posted eight double-doubles and is averaging 16.1 points per game—Maryland now has an inside threat to match up with Duke’s quartet of big bodies.
“I think Crystal is just having a phenomenal year,” Goestenkors said. “They have a great inside-outside attack, as we do, and so I think both teams are going to try to utilize both aspects.”
Goestenkors said she would match different post players against Langhorne, depending on the situation, and the 6-foot-3 forward could struggle to defend the 6-foot-7 Alison Bales.
Still, as in years past, Goestenkors thinks the game will be decided on the perimeter. The Duke coach is worried about Maryland’s ability to jump out in transition.
“I think the guards will dictate how the game goes, but part of that is going to be how much the guards get it into the post,” Goestenkors said.
Even though she knows her team has a disadvantage in size and experience down low, Frese believes Maryland’s ability to prevent Duke from scoring inside will be crucial.
“The guards may neutralize each other,” Frese said. “[With] the depth of their post players versus our post players and obviously our youth—starting two freshmen—they definitely have the experience factor. I think it will come down to the post play.”
Especially after Wednesday’s night’s 75-66 men’s thriller, Duke and Maryland are hoping to use the success of the men’s rivalry to generate interest in their women’s programs during a year when the ACC has more parity than it has seen in recent seasons.
“I wanted to get people here while we still have some home games left, so hopefully they will come back,” Goestenkors said.
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