Duke faces 1st ranked opponent

Though the schedule may list the game's location as away, today's matchup against Rutgers is more like a homecoming for freshman Bridgette Mitchell.

With the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (6-0) traveling to play the No. 18 Scarlet Knights (2-2) at 7 p.m. tonight, Mitchell will find herself in familiar territory. She attended high school just 30 minutes away from the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., playing basketball at The Peddie School in Highstown.

Rather than worrying about the opposing fans, Mitchell said she is excited about seeing her friends and family in the crowd. In addition, Rutgers freshmen Rashidat Junaid was Mitchell's former teammate on an AAU basketball team in New Jersey.

"All of my high school friends are coming out as well as everyone from my neighborhood," Mitchell said. "I'm excited, just because everyone saw me play in high school, but now that I'm at the college level, it's different."

For the rest of the Blue Devils, however, tonight's matchup, which is Duke's second road game of the year, will help the team to become comfortable playing in hostile environments on the road. Rather than be intimidated by the heckling of the opposing fans, head coach Gail Goestenkors said she believes the Blue Devils will thrive off the energy.

"We love the big-time games and big atmospheres because you pull together as a team," Goestenkors said. "It has that 'you-against-the-world' kind of feel when you have the whole crowd cheering against you."

The matchup against the Scarlet Knights begins a three-game stretch for Duke against ranked opponents, with Texas and Vanderbilt to follow. After lopsided wins for their first six games-in which their average margin of victory was 40.3 points-the Blue Devils know they are in for their first test of the season.

"We have to remember that we can't just start the game and be up by 20 because we've been doing that," senior Lindsey Harding said. "Any mistake that we had in the other games, we were able to get away with them. Now we can't because they're definitely going to take advantage of us."

With such a strenuous non-conference schedule, the Blue Devils are preparing themselves not only for the upcoming ACC schedule but also for the NCAA Tournament.

"This is the kind of competition that we're going to see in the ACC and in the NCAA Tournament," senior Alison Bales said. "We need to have all of the challenges we can over the season to get us ready and see how we're going to work against that type of competition."

When the two teams meet, Rutgers will be without one of its best players. Junior Matee Avajon was forced to miss the beginning of the season after having surgery to repair a left tibial stress fracture.

Despite Avajon's absence from Rutgers' lineup, Duke knows not to underestimate the ability of its opponent.

"We're both young and missing key players," Goestenkors said. "They're the most athletic team that we've played so far, and they've got some incredible freshmen."

Before they begin conference play, the Blue Devils will use these upcoming games to improve different aspects of their play, including rebounding and number of turnovers.

"You know that famous quote, 'rebounding wins championships,'" Bales said. "The last few games we've only out-rebounded our opponents by two or three, and that's just not good enough for our team."


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