Give Coach G's squad some respect

For those who do not know, there are actually two No. 1 teams currently sharing practice time in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

A travelling media circus has arrived in Durham to inspect J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and the top-ranked men's squad. But right now, Gail Goestenkors' women's team is looking like the Duke team most likely to add to the University's seven national championships in April.

The (Lady) Blue Devils have won by an average of more than 43 points, while beginning the season with five straight wins. They have yet to play a ranked opponent, but the teams Duke has beaten were not powderpuff squads either. Penn State and Old Dominion are perennially strong programs that have reached Final Fours. And Auburn, who the Blue Devils blew out, 69-37, Nov. 27 is an up-and-coming program in the SEC.

After the game Sunday, Auburn head coach Nell Fortner was wowed by Duke's performance.

"I don't think there's any doubt-I think that Duke is the No. 1 team in the country," she said. "They have all the pieces. I think this is the best team [Goestenkors] has had. I know they've been ranked No. 1 to start the season many years, but I think this is her best overall team. She's got it inside, outside, point guard-everything."

Fortner hit it right on. So far this season, the Blue Devils look like they can finally get over the hump and win that elusive first national championship for the program.

Last year the team was good, but it had some serious holes. Goestenkors' roster had only eight active players after Lindsey Harding was suspended and Caitlin Howe's career was ended by injuries. Sometimes the rotation went only six or seven deep as Jessica Foley suffered from foot problems late in the season and Laura Kurz did not see significant playing time in big games.

Last year's squad also lacked athleticism. In three losses to North Carolina, the Blue Devils were exploited by the Tar Heels' quickness on defense and in transition.

This year, though, Duke appears to have solved the problems that prevented the team from advancing past the Elite Eight last spring. In terms of depth, the Blue Devils now have 13 scholarship players on their roster. Even with freshmen Keturah Jackson and Brittany Mitch and sophomore transfer Emily Waner missing time recently with injuries, Goestenkors has been able to employ a full 10-woman rotation.

In Sunday's win, she subbed in five players at a time to spell the unit on the court that had been relentlessly pressing the Tigers. The first five off the bench were not as effective as the starters, but they were still better than their opponents.

The athleticism is also at a new level this year. Abby Waner and Lindsey Harding comprise a much quicker backcourt than Wanisha Smith and Jessica Foley did last year. Lanky sophomore center Chante Black has been inserted into the starting lineup over lumbering 6-foot-7 junior Alison Bales, allowing the starting five to become an exciting running and pressing unit.

Smith and Foley now come off the bench, giving Duke's second unit playmaking and sharp-shooting ability in the half-court.

And although Monique Currie has started the season slowly, it is only because her teammates have proven to be more capable this year. If any of Duke's opponents can keep a game close this year, Currie will be the one the rest of the Blue Devils look to in clutch situations.

This year's team has it all. Even though freshman phenom Candace Parker and Tennessee are creeping up on Duke in the polls, the Blue Devils look like they will be difficult to beat. The nation's top-two teams will fight it out when they meet at Cameron Jan. 23.

People should start paying attention, because this could be the Blue Devil team that will cut down the nets in the spring.


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