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New ACC opponent up next

When the women"s basketball team heads to Miami today the Blue Devils will be entering uncharted territory.

Miami"s addition to the ACC this season means that No. 3 Duke (20-2, 6-1 in the ACC) must make the trek down to southern Florida for its first-ever game against the Hurricanes (10-10, 2-5). More than just travel, though, it means that the Blue Devil coaching staff and players have to spend time preparing for a little-known opponent.

'I"m not as familiar with the players,' Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors said. 'I don"t know [Miami head coach Ferne Labati"s] tendencies as well. They play a little bit different style than we"ve seen.'

Miami features ACC leading scorer Tamara James, who averages 22.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Other ACC opponents have experimented with a number of different defensive schemes in their attempts to stop her. Duke plans to use multiple defenders on James, including Monique Currie and Mistie Williams, Goestenkors said.

Against conference opponents, coaches are usually able to rely on information gained from years of seeing some of the same players and many of the same coaches.

'I really feel for Miami and Virginia Tech because we have to prepare for two new teams while they have to prepare for nine new teams,' Goestenkors said.

Along with the opponent, Duke will be relatively unfamiliar with the venue.

'It"s just like going to the [ACC] Tournament,' Currie said of playing in a new arena. She also said her experience at Miami would be similar to that of the freshmen, who have never played in many of the ACC arenas before.

Miami moved from the Big East to the ACC along with Virginia Tech after much-publicized negotiations in 2003 and 2004. At the time, Duke raised objections because the 11-team format would mean that some teams would not play each other twice during the regular season.

'I really miss playing everybody twice,' Goestenkors said. 'I think that the results at the end of the day--who wins the conference or comes in second--could be vastly different depending on who you have to play twice. You don"t have a true champion in that you"re not playing the exact same teams someone else is.'

After a thrilling battle in Raleigh last Sunday, Duke will not get a chance to play N.C. State at home this season because of the imbalanced schedules.

This is a concern for Duke"s attendance, which despite the team"s No. 1 ranking for a stretch of the season, has remained low. Behind the North Carolina home game, the N.C. State game was always the second-highest attended conference game of the season in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils will also face Virginia, Clemson and Florida State only once.

ACC schools, with the exception of Duke and North Carolina, were in favor of the expansion primarily for financial reasons related to football. Some members of Duke community still see the changes as a positive for the conference, in part because of the additional excitement generated by playing new teams.

'When tournament time comes you"re seeing some teams for the third time, and so it"s good to see a new team sometimes,' Currie said.

Duke"s players also get to escape the blustery Durham winter for a night. The women are scheduled to return for classes early Friday morning.

'I wish we got to be like the boys and spend a couple more days down there,' Currie said of the men"s team"s two-game trip to Florida in January.

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