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Duke puts ACC lead on the line

If Duke knows anything, it's that challenges on the court and opportunities to get better are not limited to matchups against its traditional rivals.

They come in many forms.

The No. 3 Blue Devils will have yet another chance to prove themselves against No. 18 Florida State Thursday at 7 p.m. in Tallahassee, Fla. with first place in the ACC on the line, and head coach Joanne P. McCallie understands that the ACC is full of teams that can present such a challenge on any given night.

"Once upon a time it was Duke, North Carolina, Maryland on top, and then this huge drop off," McCallie said. "What Florida State has done is tremendous.... It has really become a more diverse and interesting league. It really goes back to the anytime, anyplace, anywhere mentality which has really got to be in our minds for the game."

The Blue Devils (17-1, 5-0 in the ACC) are riding a 15-game winning streak and seem to be playing their best basketball of the year, even though they believe there is plenty of room to improve.

But the Seminoles (17-4, 5-0) are also undefeated in the conference and could present the type of problems Duke is used to facing against North Carolina and Maryland. With a strong backcourt boasting the league's second-highest 3-point percentage, Florida State could try the Blue Devils' defense in a way Duke hasn't seen this season.

Seminole junior center Jacinita Monroe is strong in the paint, averaging 13.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. But despite Monroe's aggressive style of play, junior forward Bridgette Mitchell feels that the energy in recent practices will carry the Blue Devils to the top of the ACC, at least temporarily.

"We've been getting after each other, getting more aggressive, getting into passing lanes and forcing the other team in practice to do certain things to test them," Mitchell said. "We are trying to limit our turnovers and improving our defense by really getting after each other."

Duke hopes that momentum translates from the practice court to the game tonight in the Sunshine State. And if McCallie and the team have their way, Duke's latest opportunity to grow will also result in a victory.

"It's like a bunch of dominoes. You try and knock them all down, but it's tough to knock them all down," McCallie said. "There are some excellent opponents out there, and I understand that there are different rivalries, but from a coach's perspective and from a player's perspective, it's about every opportunity, going in hoping to get better and treating every opportunity equally. I think if we do that, we'll have some great success overall."

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