Although Duke did not look like a national championship-caliber team against Marist, the Blue Devils should not worry too much about their inconsistent play in the two games this weekend-as long as they continue to improve the way they did against Houston.
Early season matchups against lesser opponents are not so much about winning-Duke likely could have pulled out both weekend victories with only four players on the floor. These easier games are more about gelling as a team and improving the untested talent before the Blue Devils begin the meat of their schedule.
With three core players gone from last season's national championship runner-up team, Duke needs to give Lindsey Harding, Abby Waner and Wanisha Smith time to learn how to be leaders in the backcourt. And down low, Alison Bales needs a chance to adjust to being the sole guiding force, especially with Chante Black still out with an injury.
"That has really been a focus for me and Lindsey both," Bales said about adjusting to their new roles. "We need to be a very vocal presence on the floor."
Houston head coach Joe Curl said Duke played bigger, faster and stronger than the Cougars in the Blue Devils' win Sunday. The same could not be said for the Blue Devils in their victory over Marist Friday. Although the Duke was bigger, the Lions outworked the Blue Devils, who went flat after opening the game with a 14-2 run.
Head coach Gail Goestenkors said she was "disappointed" in her team's lackluster effort against the Red Foxes, who managed to cut Duke's lead to 10 at halftime.
The Blue Devil's veterans were unable to motivate the younger players Friday night. After the starters built up an early lead, Goestenkors emptied her bench and put a new five on the floor, which included many of the freshmen.
The second five looked lost, impatient and unfocused when they were running the offense. When the starters returned to the floor, they were unable to recapture the early-game energy and bring the team back to life. That was not the case Sunday. Duke's drive lasted all forty minutes-a sign that Goestenkors got her team's attention during the day off.
Similar to the game against Marist, the Blue Devils jumped out on Houston with an early run. But this time, they did not slow down. Throughout the game, the starters pressured the ball, forced turnovers and dove for loose balls.
When Goestenkors put in the lineup that included four freshmen, and junior Emily Waner at the point, against Houston in the second half, the veterans did not sit idly on the bench, satisfied with their effort. Instead, Waner, Smith and Harding stood and encouraged the younger players-effectively helping to build up the freshmen's confidence and keep their vigor alive on the floor.
"Especially when everyone is vocal when I go in, it's like a boost of energy," freshman Bridgette Mitchell said. "So, when everyone is excited, I was a little more comfortable when I got in."
Waner may have even carried her enthusiasm a little too far.
Late in the second half with Abby Waner on the bench, her sister Emily got an open look for a three-pointer. Anticipating the shot, the younger Waner threw up her hands, which caused Emily to mistakenly throw a pass to her sister out of bounds.
With their father watching in the stands, the two exchanged a light-hearted moment, sharing laughs and a wink.
If the Blue Devils want to come together as a team in time for matches against tougher opponents, the veterans will have to continue motivating the younger players on the team.
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