CHAPEL HILL — The Blue Devils were hoping that their “eight is enough” rally cry from 2002 would ring true again this year. Now that junior guard Jessica Foley has developed tendinitis in her left foot, they must hope that just seven players can suffice.
Foley sat out Sunday’s first-round game and has not been through a full practice since the loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament final March 7. She is wearing a protective boot on the injured foot to take the pressure off of it. Both she and head coach Gail Goestenkors deemed her status to be day-to-day.
Foley’s injury raises serious concerns for a Duke team that was already thin, especially in the backcourt.
“It affects us because it affects our depth, it affects our ball-handling and it affects our outside shooting,” Goestenkors said. “She’s one of our smartest players.”
Foley has been pivotal in Duke’s success this year. Lindsey Harding’s season-long suspension and Caitlin Howe’s variety of injuries have left the Blue Devils extremely shorthanded at the guard position, with Foley starting at shooting guard and freshman Wanisha Smith playing at the point. Along with Monique Currie, a natural forward, Foley had been asked to shoulder some of the ball-handling responsibilities.
With Foley sitting out Sunday’s game against Canisius, Goestenkors had little choice but go to a big lineup that included senior Wynter Whitley starting at forward and Currie in the second guard slot next to Smith. Whitley’s start left only two Duke players on the bench—reserve center Chante Black and sharp-shooting Laura Kurz. Goestenkors was probably not counting on the freshman guard playing serious minutes during the tournament.
Against Canisius, Whitley and Kurz stepped up admirably. The pair recorded 31 and 25 minutes, respectively, and Whitley totaled 12 points and five rebounds. But Kurz struggled, scoring only four points and turning the ball over five times.
The Blue Devils were able to advance without Foley in a game pitting the heavily-favored Blue Devils against a team whose most notable national accomplishment was the five Canadian players on its roster. But in the Round of 32 Tuesday against Boston College, Duke’s players will all need to elevate their level of play if Foley is still out.
“We put a little bit more pressure on ourselves to do a little bit more,” Whitley said. “Everyone has to pick it up in anything they can do.”
The Blue Devils will each be asked to do a number of unfamiliar things on the court. Mistie Williams was asked to play small forward Sunday alongside a lineup that included 6-foot-7 Alison Bales and 6-foot-5 Chante Black.
“They’re not just the biggest team we’ve played, they’re bigger than our men’s team,” Canisius head coach Terry Zeh said.
The bigger lineup can be either a blessing or a curse for Duke. Against a team like Canisius, the Blue Devils were able to overpower and pick apart their opponent on both ends of the floor.
But against a more talented team, the matchup problems Duke created could end up burning them. The Blue Devils switched on screens when playing the Golden Griffins, but trading defensive assignments all the time will leave Duke dangerously susceptible to teams that have quick guards who can hit from the outside or drive to the basket.
On offense, Duke will need to rely on Currie and Smith even more. The two are also Duke’s most effective playmakers, so additional ball-handling responsibilities could affect their scoring output.
The Blue Devils will also be soft on both ends because any foul trouble could spell disaster.
Meanwhile, Duke is hoping that the concerns will be moot and that Foley can return to the lineup before the team plays an opponent who can exploit its lack of depth.
“We’ve been fine with eight—we’ve done that before, so it’s not a concern,” Goestenkors said.
Seven, however, is a whole new ballgame.
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