By the time the women's basketball team takes the court for its Dec. 19 game against Ball State, it will have been nearly two weeks since the Blue Devils played their last game.
The Blue Devils (7-0) can use the rest and the extra practice time. They emerged from a stretch of five games in nine days unscathed, but the extended break will give the team the chance to focus on early season weaknesses in preparation for its upcoming ACC schedule.
"We've had so many games, and we really haven't been able to have practice where we can just break down and get back to basics," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We're going to be working on our defense, working on our screening-little things that make a big difference in close games."
So far this season, the Blue Devils have rarely been in close games. In their undefeated run, their average margin of victory has been 38.4 points.
But in the two games against No. 19 Texas and Texas Christian Dec. 4 and 6, respectively, the final score was not an exact reflection of how competitive the games were. Against the Longhorns, the game was tied at 61 with 9:40 left in the second half until Duke pulled away for a 14-point win. Even though the final score was 92-52 against TCU, Duke was only up by one on the Horned Frogs with one minute left in the first half before its offense exploded with 56 second-half points in the blowout win.
"We definitely need to do a lot better job beginning games," Goestenkors said. "We need to be focused and ready to play. So that's an area where we're going to try to do a better job with over this break because it is a concern of ours."
The Blue Devils should expect closer games as the level of competition will escalate after the New Year. In the ACC, they will play both No. 7 North Carolina (9-0) and No. 9 Maryland (8-1) twice. And the women's squad will also meet No. 1 Tennessee (8-0) in a Jan. 23 matchup that will potentially pair the nations' top two teams.
But the Blue Devils, who did not graduate any starters from last season, will not be complete strangers to the stronger opposition. Last season, they set a Duke record with 12 wins against ranked opponents. And in three of those games, they relied on game-winning shots by senior guard Monique Currie, including one for a 59-57 regular season win against Tennessee.
"We know it's coming, where we do have close games that go down to the wire," Goestenkors said. "We had many games last year that went down to the final buzzer, and we won all of those games. So, there is a level of confidence we already have based on past experiences. The players that were in those games are back. So, we feel good about the potential to be successful in those situations."
Before the student-athletes can look ahead to the vigorous upcoming schedule, they will have to tangle with the rigors of final exams and final papers this week as the semester comes to a close. But substantial time between games will give the players ample opportunity to focus on their studies.
Goestenkors said she will attempt to balance players' time playing basketball and doing schoolwork with short, intense practices so that her team can do as well as possible in the classroom and on the court.
"We know that we have to balance both our schoolwork and basketball," senior guard Monique Currie said. "I think that now is a good time for everyone to have time to study and get ready for finals."
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