Duke seeks payback for NCAA Tournament loss

At her introductory press conference in April, a reporter asked newly-hired head coach Joanne P. McCallie about playing Texas, former head coach Gail Goestenkors' new team.

Her answer was somewhat surprising.

"I have thought about it," McCallie said. "We've talked about Rutgers also, and that's who I believe we should be focused on."

The Scarlet Knights not only took out Duke in the Sweet 16 of last year's NCAA Tournament, but also defeated Michigan State, McCallie's former squad, in the previous round. The Blue Devils lost to Rutgers when Lindsey Harding missed two free throws with 0.1 seconds remaining, sending top-seeded Duke home early.

Eight months after the Blue Devils welcomed its new coach, McCallie and the No. 17 Duke (5-3) finally get their shot at revenge against the No. 3 Scarlet Knights (5-1) tonight at 7 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Although the memory of last season's defeat still lingers, the squad is attempting to treat this matchup like any other contest.

"We try and take every game the same," junior Abby Waner said. "However, that being said, there is an extra incentive for the obvious reasons."

Those obvious reasons also include the fact that Rutgers is one of the best teams in the country this year. The Scarlet Knights enter tonight's contest riding a five-game winning streak, having just defeated previously-unbeaten Maryland. The fast-paced Rutgers offense is led by guards Epiphanny Prince and Essence Carson, who combine for 25.8 points per game.

"Their guards are really quick and can score a lot of ways," said senior Wanisha Smith, who will remain sidelined tonight with a broken bone in her wrist. "They're really smart, they get in the passing lanes, they do a really good job of reading defenses."

Rutgers' recent successes stand in stark contrast to the Blue Devils' current woes. Duke finds itself in the midst of a three-game losing streak-its longest in over a decade-and its struggles have started on the defensive end.

The Blue Devils have conceded 76.0 points per game in the last three contests, compared to just 44.4 in its five wins. Opposing teams are shooting 48.6 percent from the field in the losses, in contrast to only 28.1 percent in Duke's victories.

"Our defense is obviously what we're slacking on right now," Waner said. "We've gone back to the basics-how to move your feet instead of fouling. Really, it comes down to defense and fouling."

Offensively, the Blue Devils are led by their own scoring duo of Waner and center Chante Black, who are averaging a total of 25.9 points per game. Duke will look to run its offense through Black, whose presence in the post has lifted the team to a 282-158 advantage in points-in-the-paint this season.

If Duke fails to come out with a victory against the Scarlet Knights, it will mark the team's first four-game losing streak since the 1994. Naturally, the players are eager to resume their winning ways.

"We're competitive, we want to win and we hate losing," Waner said.

Still, the team realizes that losses in December are not nearly as important as losses in March, and the Blue Devils have found inspiration to turn around their season in an unlikely source-Rutgers. Last year, the Scarlet Knights lost to Duke by nearly 40 points in December before their stunning tournament victory.

"It was so early in the season," said Black, who redshirted last year. "Hopefully, we're going to go through changes just like Rutgers did and come out as that Final Four team. Definitely, there can be a comeback."

Tonight's game, against the team that handed Duke its last March loss, should be the perfect opportunity for the Blue Devils to begin that resurgence.


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