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Waner leads Blue Devils in 1st-round win

RALEIGH - Any pre-game anxiety Abby Waner may have had going into Sunday night's matchup certainly didn't show on the court.

Despite Duke's ACC Tournament loss in the semifinal round two weeks ago in Greensboro, Waner made it clear that Duke was not going to let Holy Cross get off that easy.

She would make sure of it.

After nailing two consecutive three-pointers five minutes into the first half, the sophomore used her momentum to get back on defense and halt Holy Cross' Christy Cushnie in her tracks. As Cushnie went up for a shot from downtown, Waner jumped up and slammed the ball into a thrilled crowd.

"I felt like Alison Bales for a little bit," Waner said, speaking about her teammate, who is the nation's leading shot-blocker. "It's nice to be in her spotlight for once."

Waner, however, held a spotlight of her own. And the fans were not the only ones awed by the play.

Bales-who had five blocks herself against the Crusaders-was impressed by Waner's showing, calling it a "perfect 10" on her scale.

The sophomore totaled 26 points-20 of them in the first half-to lead Duke in scoring. Waner's six three pointers also tied her career high from beyond the arc.

"Abby's the best we've had," head coach Gail Goestenkors said of the sophomore's shooting ability. "We've had some real good shooters.... But with Abby's range, she gets it off just as quick as anybody."

Waner's fire on offense was not her only contribution in Duke's game Sunday night.

Following Waner's block, the Blue Devils were visibly energized, swarming her with high fives and chest bumps. The sophomore's streak on the court-in addition to her team-leading four steals-effectively pumped up the Blue Devils to shake off any dust they may have gathered during their two week stretch without a game following the ACC Tournament.

"I wouldn't say that our energy was lacking, because we've been so anxious to get on the floor," Waner said. "It was just a matter of channeling it in the right direction."

With Waner's hot streak providing a cushion, Goestenkors was able to switch up Duke's lineup frequently. Eight Blue Devils saw more than 15 minutes of play while Duke practiced different rotations.

Duke's go-to seniors, Bales and Lindsey Harding, played solidly despite seeing less playing time than usual-the pair played fewer than 30 minutes apiece. Bales contributed 13 points for the Blue Devils' second-highest point total on the night, while Harding recorded seven points and three steals.

Although Goestenkors said she was not particularly happy with the team's defensive performance, Duke was able to use its momentum to knock off its first round opponent.

"It had been a good long while after our last game," Goestenkors said. "I didn't think we played particularly well but I think we did what we needed to do, and as the game went along, I felt like we got a little bit better on both ends of the floor, which was the purpose of this game-just to get the kinks out and get our legs back under us."

During the team's 15-day break, Waner said she frequently hit the gym to shoot around and get ready for the upcoming game. The minor thumb injury she sustained during one shootaround between tournaments clearly did not bother her in Sunday night's play.

"I'd be a little bit worried coming into the Tournament if I felt I was rusty," Waner said. "Even though we had 15 days off, that doesn't mean you can't get in the gym and shoot."

With their first game behind them, the Blue Devils will use their energy boost to propel them through the NCAA Tournament, particularly as the competition gets more fierce.

As Waner continues to find her stride and set the tone for Duke in the backcourt, the top-ranked Blue Devils will continue to feed off her energy.

"We're going to ride it as long as we can," Goestenkors said.

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