GREENSBORO — With two dominant, record-setting ACC-Tournament victories over Wake Forest and Maryland, Duke’s women’s basketball team served notice to the entire nation this weekend that they, not North Carolina, are the best team in the ACC.
The concept of “team” is something that has been lacking all season long for the Blue Devils. Early on it became clear that Monique Currie was fully capable of filling the leadership and scoring void left by Alana Beard. But during the regular season, Currie’s teammates often relied on her too much and stood around waiting for Currie to make something happen.
This weekend, Currie was honored for her regular-season accomplishments when she was voted ACC Player of the Year. At the same time, though, Duke showed that its key to success in postseason play will be more balanced contributions on the offensive end.
“We know that it will take a team effort for us to be successful,” Currie said. “We’re looking to get everyone involved.”
While running up tournament scoring records, Duke had no player score more than 20 points in either game. Duke’s leading scorers against Wake Forest were Mistie Williams and Wanisha Smith. Every Blue Devil except Jessica Foley, who had nine points, reached double figures in the game.
Against Maryland, Duke had five players in double figures with Williams and freshman Chante Black leading the way with 14 each. Currie scored 13 in the game but was extremely selective in the shots she took. Over the two-game stretch, Currie held herself to 19 shots, well below her season average of about 13 per game.
“It shows that we don’t just rely on Monique,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “I think for a while we were beginning to rely on her a bit [too much].”
When Currie shoots less, it means there are many more shots to go around for her teammates. Duke whipped the ball around the perimeter, finding open shooters all over the place. In the Wake Forest game, it almost looked like shooting practice, as Currie, Smith, Foley and Laura Kurz each connected from long range.
In doing this, the Blue Devils showed that they can pick apart a zone defense with three-point shooting. They made an ACC-Tournament record 12 during that game.
When outside shots weren’t open, Duke targeted cutters and dropped the ball over the top of defenders hopelessly attempting to front 6-foot-7 Alison Bales, Williams and Black.
Up 45-15 against Maryland, Bales hit Wynter Whitley cutting backdoor, and she converted the bucket and got fouled. The two posts leaped into the air and chest-bumped to celebrate.
The teamwork exhibited by plays like that was demonstrated throughout both games. The Blue Devils tallied 29 assists against the Demon Deacons, more than ten above their season average. The team also assisted on 16-of-26 made field goals against Maryland.
Most importantly, the assists were distributed evenly among all the Blue Devils. Smith led with six against Wake Forset, but three other players had five each. Against Maryland, Currie led the way with four.
The increased distribution has allowed more of Duke’s players to gain confidence, especially the freshmen. After being timid all season coming off injuries, Black is now playing the best basketball since she’s been at Duke.
She recorded double-doubles in both games and dominated the offensive boards, providing Duke with an edge on the glass it has been missing most of the season.
Smith is also playing better than ever right now. She only turned the ball over three times all weekend, allowing her to shift her focus to her offensive output. She knocked down four treys over the Demon Deacon defense and had an efficient ten points versus the Terrapins.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to really move the ball around, and other people are stepping forward now, which is important come tournament time,” Goestenkors said.
With so many more players contributing, Duke looked scary-good this weekend. The huge leads in both games allowed Goestenkors to rest Currie, who should be able to use her fresh legs against a tired Tar Heel squad Monday night.
In the realm of Duke women’s basketball, things have not looked better this season. After both game, there was a glow emanating from Goestenkors saying that this team may just be onto something special.
Of course, things also looked that way before last Sunday’s defeat at the hands of North Carolina. Monday night’s tilt will show if this time is any different.
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