PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Through its first six games of the year, Duke found itself untested and unscathed, compiling a 40.3 point average margin of victory and holding each opponent under 30 percent shooting.
After cruising during that six-game span, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils thought they would be seriously challenged for the first time this season Monday night against No. 19 Rutgers (2-3) in the 2006 Jimmy V Classic.
They passed the test with unexpected ease.
Led by stellar backcourt play by Abby Waner and Lindsey Harding-who each posted season-highs with 21 and 19 points, respectively-and another strong defensive performance, the Blue Devils (7-0) crushed the Scarlet Knights, 85-45, in the Rutgers Athletic Center.
Duke seemed to ignore the fact that it was playing just its second road game of the year in a traditionally-raucous environment against the first nationally-ranked team on its schedule. If anything, it inspired the Blue Devils.
"We were excited," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We really want to test ourselves-we're a young team and we're finding out who we are."
The Blue Devils' exhilaration was evident from the very start of the game, when they raced out to a 7-0 lead in the first two minutes, prompting Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer to call a timeout. Even the stoppage of play could not stop Duke's momentum.
After that timeout, Waner banked in a three-pointer and Harding added two threes of her own to give Duke a 20-5 lead just more than eight minutes into the game. From then on, the lead would only increase, ballooning to 40 points by game's end.
With a 39-18 halftime lead, Duke quelled any ideas of a Rutgers second-half comeback by scoring the first 11 points in the second period. Once again, Harding was in the middle of the action, nailing three mid-range jumpers.
Similar to Duke's previous performances throughout the year, the offense would not have thrived without a dominant defensive effort. The Blue Devils featured a trapping zone defense that caused turnovers, which led to transition buckets for Harding and Waner. They also blocked seven shots and stole nine passes.
The strength of Duke's defense was the frontcourt, where Bales, Gay and a mix of other players limited Rutgers center Kia Vaughn to five points-all from the free throw line. Duke's defensive performance was even more impressive considering Rutgers star guard Matee Ajavon-who had yet to play this season due to injury-suited up in an unexpected game-time decision.
Yet in a game that even Goestenkors admitted she could not imagine winning by such a wide margin, the most promising aspect of Duke's game was its ability to combine effective play on both ends of the court in a big-game atmosphere. Duke will certainly have to remember such intangibles when it faces No. 12 Vanderbilt Thursday night and No. 22 Texas Sunday, both in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"We're confident-I think we've been confident," Goestenkors said. "This is a team-specifically with the seniors-they've been in the biggest games you can possibly play in. I think they have confidence going wherever we go, playing whoever it is happens to be on the schedule."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.