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Women's basketball team makes its mark with stingy defense

Three ACC teams-Maryland, North Carolina and Duke-hold the top three spots in the Associated Press women's basketball poll.

Two of those three teams, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, also rank among the top three in another, very important category-scoring defense.

Duke is the toughest defensive team in the ACC, relinquishing a meager 45.6 points per game, second nationally only to No. 5 LSU, which gives up 43.6.

And in what is arguably the most talented conference in the country, the Blue Devils will need to continue their solid play on defense in order to win throughout their rigorous ACC schedule.

"We don't want a team to come in with confidence," point guard Lindsey Harding said. "We want teams to be intimidated, and so we focus on our defense and our pressure."

The focus on defense-which has been at the heart of Duke's success this season-has been instilled into each player by head coach Gail Goestenkors.

"We spend more time on defense than offense, and we always start our practices with defensive break-down drills," Goestenkors said. "By what I say and what I do, they understand how important is, and it's become important to them as well."

Although emphasizing defense in practice and breaking down game film has helped Goestenkors get the message through to her team, it also helps to have players who not only prioritize, but execute on the defensive end of the floor.

The statistics reveal just how successful and efficient the team has become, from averaging more than 13 steals to pulling down more than 29 rebounds on the defensive glass per contest.

But the real strength of this Blue Devil squad is in its attitude and in the players' comfort level with each other.

"Trust makes our defense go," Harding said.

It's easy to trust in your teammates when Harding is at half-court and 6-foot-7 Alison Bales-Duke's all-time leading shot blocker-is under the basket.

"It starts with Lindsey and ends with Ali," Goestenkors said. "I think we've got two of the best defensive players in the country, and they really set the tone for us."

Harding has been one of the players who has stepped up the most since Monique Currie and Mistie Williams left for WNBA last year and has really embraced her role as a captain.

She said she sets an example when an opposing point guard comes up the floor.

"What I do well is pressuring the ball," Harding said. "I am active... so my other teammates can actually see, 'Oh she's pressuring, so if my person gets the ball, I'm going to do that, too.'"

As a result of Bales' strong presence in the middle, Harding has been able to be more aggressive on defense, knowing that if she gets beat when going for the steal, her center will be there to make a stop.

Additionally, a more versatile interior defense has contributed to the improvement of this year's team versus last year's Final Four squad.

With Williams' departure, sophomore forward Carrem Gay has gotten considerably more playing time and is better than Williams at defending post players that are more guard-like, Goestenkors said.

As the Blue Devils continue to play through their conference schedule, and eventually into the postseason, they will also continue to rely on their defense, which Goestenkors said is what makes her team great.

And, as the cliché goes, defense wins championships.

"Scoring will come, we can score on anybody," Harding said. "But if we can stop a great team from scoring, then the games can be a lot easier for us."


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