Backcourt tandem paves way for Blue Devils

Deep into the first half, Abby Waner nailed a three-pointer and followed it with a layup after Lindsey Harding stole the subsequent inbounds pass and found her wide open teammate.

Georgia Tech then called a timeout, and the two Duke guards, both sporting dimple-to-dimple smiles, met at half-court for a traditional chest bump.

Game over. Who's got next?

That would be Maryland, the No. 1 team in the land and the squad that beat Duke, 78-75, in the 2006 National Championship. And as well as 6-foot-7 center Alison Bales played against the Terrapins last spring, Duke's chances of avenging its last loss hinge on a frequent connection in Cameron Indoor Stadium: Harding to Waner.

The two guards have been Duke's best and most consistent performers this season. It became increasingly clear Wednesday night that when both guards are on their game, the opponent, whether it be Georgia Tech or Maryland, might as well get back on the team bus.

"Their play for every game is really important for us," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "We're reliant on those two, and they've accepted those roles. And I think they cherish those roles. They both want to be go-to players and leaders for this team, and they are. It's the way it's been all year long."

But the distinguishing trait about the Blue Devil backcourt is not both guards' ability to score, but Harding's penchant for spotting Waner, whether she is finding an open position in Georgia Tech's relatively lazy zone or streaking to the basket on the fast break.

Waner was the undeniable star Wednesday night, hitting six-three pointers-including a four-point play in the second half-while only missing one.

"With their traps that they were doing up top, it really left the back side open sometimes," Waner said. "The back side of the zone would forget about the deep corners, and my teammates did a good job of finding me, and it was just one of those nights."

Despite Duke's large lead, Waner's hustle never wavered, as she dove for a loose ball and crashed into press row late in the second half.

The most impressive part of Waner's performance, though, was its unexpectedness. In the last four games, she was 3-of-16 from behind the arc-which felt more like 0-for-36, the sharpshooting Waner said.

"It's just having confidence in my shot and that if I don't make my first shot, forget about it and think about the next shot," said Waner, who has "Next Play" written on her shoes.

But Waner's success was, and is, dependent on Harding's play from the point guard position. Four of Harding's five assists were to Waner. Duke did not necessarily need Harding's 16 points last night, but they will certainly help against a quality foe like Maryland.

As a senior point guard, Harding is the engineer of Duke's potent offense. But she is also Duke's leader off the court, and she made sure to keep her team's focus on Georgia Tech, rather than Saturday's large-looming game.

By the middle of the second half, the Blue Devils were toying with the Yellow Jackets, and it was tough to tell whether the players or the crowd was having more fun.

No one expects another Duke blowout Saturday. But then again, the last time the team anticipated a stern test at then-No. 18 Rutgers, they beat the Scarlet Knights by 40 points.

In any case, Duke needs its backcourt to replicate its latest performance in Saturday's long-anticipated rematch against Maryland, which has not moved from the top spot in the polls all year.

And if Harding and Waner share another mid-court chest bump during the course of the game, well, that has to be considered a good sign for the already-sold-out crowd at Cameron.


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