AUSTIN, Texas - Without Mistie Williams in the game, Duke had trouble exploiting its size advantage in the post. Without the senior forward, the Blue Devils had difficulty even rivaling the presence of Texas' athletic frontline.
For all of Duke's depth in the post, Sunday's win against the Longhorns displayed deficiencies in both the team's offensive and defensive approaches. Texas' starting frontcourt of Earnesia Williams and Tiffany Jackson showed the havoc that a pair of quick, if undersized, post players can cause the Blue Devil defense.
Jackson may have single-handedly ended Duke's thoughts of pressing on Texas' first possession. The junior forward, who was left unguarded by the Blue Devils' press, dribbled the length of the court and buried a short pull-up jumper in the middle of the lane.
Knowing that neither Mistie Williams nor junior Alison Bales would be able to contain the athletic Texas forward in a full-court defense, Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors soon abandoned the press, which had been so effective early this season.
"They just were sprinting the floor," Goestenkors said. "We've got nice size, but we weren't sprinting with them. Their athleticism was tough for us throughout the game. I thought they did a real nice job of running the floor."
Even in the half court, however, Jackson and Earnesia Williams pestered Duke's defense. The duo combined for 24 points and four assists and often caused the Blue Devil defense to collapse as they drove the lane against the slower Duke defenders. This left shooters like Erika Arriaran, who finished with 16 points, open on the wing. Goestenkors even tried playing Laura Kurz at a post position to match the Longhorns' speed, but the perimeter threat often looked lost in the flow of the offense.
The main reason Duke could not capitalize off its size advantage in the first half is that Williams stands alone as Duke's only post threat who can score with her back to the basket. Freshman Carrem Gay and sophomore Chante Black provide decent athleticism, and junior Alison Bales has shown a soft shooting touch, but when Williams was not in the game the Blue Devils struggled to score inside consistently.
Bales, Black and Gay combined for just 13 points, while Williams was very efficient, scoring 14 points in just 22 minutes. Bales and Williams also seem to work well together as a high-low tandem, as Bales twice made nice entry passes from the top of the key to her senior counterpart. The second of these was a critical basket that put Duke up 72-65 with just less than six minutes to play, after which Goestenkors threw up her hands as if to ask, "Why don't we do that every time?"
That seems to be a question worth answering, as Williams has proven to be the most irreplaceable player on the Blue Devil roster. Still, Sunday showed that even with Williams on the floor, Duke is vulnerable to a team with an athletic frontcourt, such as future opponent No. 2 Tennessee.
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