Having a seven-player squad was never the plan.
Lindsey Harding was supposed to play point guard, Jessica Foley was supposed to anchor Duke’s shooting attack and Brittany Hunter and Tasha Humphrey were going to be the face of a new era of Blue Devil dominance.
Duke’s game Saturday against sixth-seeded Georgia (24-9) in the regional semifinals in Chattanooga, Tenn., will provide a glimpse at part of what could have been. The Bulldogs will center their attack around Humphrey, who had verbally committed to Duke before changing her mind and going on to win National Freshman of the Year honors at Georgia.
Second-seeded Duke (30-4) will attempt to contain Humphrey while also worrying about problems of its own, most notably the continued absence of Foley because of tendinitis in her left foot. In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils were forced to play big, and barring an unexpected return from the junior guard, they will have to again this weekend.
“It’s just a little bit more difficult with seven,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the numbers as much as it is the rotations and the ball-handling and the shooting.”
After developing a comfortable rotation for most of the season, Duke was forced to depart from it in wins over Canisius and Boston College last weekend in Chapel Hill. Monique Currie shifted from small forward to shooting guard, and senior forward Wynter Whitley was inserted into the starting lineup after coming off the bench all season.
The different look provides Duke with even more of a size advantage than it already had over most teams all season. But even with Foley healthy, the Blue Devils struggled against athletic teams. Without the junior guard, Duke will be even less able to handle quicker squads.
Georgia plays exactly the kind of game that could give Goestenkors headaches. They start three guards, all of whom are 5-foot-8 or shorter.
“They’re quicker than we are at the guard slots, but we’re taller,” Goestenkors said. “I’m sure they’ll try to push the tempo and pressure us, and we have to counteract that with taking care of the ball and posting up our guards.”
Freshman point guard Wanisha Smith, along with Currie, will shoulder even more of the ball-handling and shooting burden while also trying to contain the Bulldogs’ up-tempo offense.
Georgia is 15th in the country in scoring, and its offense is multi-dimensional. Its guards can each handle the ball, and the Bulldogs will look to get Cori Chambers open for shots. Alexis Kendrick will have to contend with Smith’s physical defense, but she is an equally capable distributor and will get the offense moving. And then there’s Humphrey.
“She’s a monster down on the low block,” said Goestenkors, who noted that the freshman also has the range to knock it down from the outside. “She has the ability to take advantage of any mismatches.”
The combination of different looks the Bulldogs can provide is only one of many reasons why this will be a difficult matchup for Duke, even though it is favored. After finishing a disappointing SEC season, Georgia is hot now, coming off of an upset victory over third-seeded Texas in the second round.
The disjointed nature of Duke’s lineups has some predicting an early exit for the team this year.
“People haven’t really expected us to do really well,” Currie said, but she added that the team will not be deterred. “We know if we lose it’ll be our last game.”
Goestenkors said Foley is still day-to-day but has not practices this week.... Duke leads the all-time series 2-0, with both victories coming in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils defeated the Bulldogs in the Sweet 16 in both 1999 and 2003.... With a victory, Georgia would advance to its eighth Elite Eight in the past 11 years.
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