Duke travels south to run with Bulls

The Blue Devils take on South Florida in the ESPNU Women's Basketball Invitational tonight at 7 p.m., but their focus isn't on the event or even their opponent. Instead, the team needs to listen to the words of head coach Joanne P. McCallie and play its own game.

"It's about Duke first," McCallie said. "We've got to do what we do well."

As the 10th-ranked team in the country, the Blue Devils (1-0) are confident that they have the talent level to compete with the best teams in the nation. But, at the start of a new season, the team is still coming together and working on the nuances of its game. McCallie and the players noted that what comes as second nature to experienced squads is not as automatic for a team that has just started to learn a new coach's system.

"We need to focus on the little things-setting our screens, working through our plays and not being in such a rush all the time," sophomore Brittany Mitch said.

McCallie has set targets for Duke to reach and ideally surpass in each game, including 20 offensive rebounds, 20 assists and fewer turnovers than in the previous game. The players have done their best to internalize her message.

"We just have to focus on what we're doing," forward Joy Cheek said. "Make sure we keep our turnovers down, we really rebound and just be the aggressor and the attacker."

The attacking starts on the offensive end as Duke will look to the push the tempo and establish a fast pace early on. The team likes to run up and down the floor and utilize its speed while still taking care of possession.

"We're a transition team," Mitch said. "But at times, we need to slow it down and set things up and know how to control the ball."

Turnovers were of particular concern in the Blue Devils' last game, when they gave the ball away 23 times, allowing Denver to lead for 23 minutes. Against a South Florida team that put up 84 points in its season opener, Duke will have to restrict its turnovers so that the Bulls do not have as many easy scoring opportunities.

Defensively, the Blue Devils are also working on improving their court awareness. Denver was able to spread the floor well and create open looks, hitting six three-pointers in the first half. Cheek said that Duke was caught over-marking some players and leaving others open before the intermission.

Against South Florida (1-0), the team will also have to deal with the absence of leading scorer Abby Waner, who will sit out due to an ankle injury sustained in practice. Waner will likely miss only the one game.

Despite the miscues of the first game and the loss of Waner, the Blue Devils are ready to improve on their play against South Florida. Cheek mentioned that the best part about this year's squad is its willingness to get better and keep learning as the season progresses.

And Duke remains confident that it will show that improvement on the floor in Tampa. When asked if the contest would end in Duke's third victory over South Florida in as many tries, Mitch didn't even hesitate as she said, "Yes."


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