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Mitchell emerges as force on the boards

As the No. 10 Blue Devils wind down their season with only two more conference games, it's all about the rocks-those essential players who can consistently come to every game and effectively serve their role.

Junior forward Bridgette Mitchell has emerged as one of those indispensable rocks for the Blue Devils in the last two weeks, and Duke will call upon her again Wednesday when it travels to play Wake Forest at 7 p.m. in Lawrence Joel Memorial Stadium.

After impressing coaches at the start of the season, Mitchell started her first game against Clemson Feb. 13. In the last four games-in which Mitchell started every time-she has posted 30 total rebounds. Excluding Duke's loss to Maryland Sunday, the Blue Devils (22-4, 9-3 in the ACC) have averaged more than 15 rebounds more than their opponent, thanks in large part to Mitchell's effort.

"She is a defensive specialist," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We need her shutting down top offensive players while putting up big rebounds. She's a tough player and a committed person. We just have to have a rock and a person who is willing to do what we need them to do every game.... She is beginning to show some consistency and [Mitchell's] really got to work for that, and she's really got to bring it."

And that's exactly what Mitchell hopes to do, especially tonight at Wake Forest (18-8, 5-7), when Duke tries to bounce back from a loss.

After 31 straight victories against the Demon Deacons, the Blue Devils hope to extend the streak with a solid win, while at the same time sending a strong message to the conference that they are a force to be reckoned with in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.

A victory would also ensure the 11th straight season in which Duke won at least 10 conference games, the longest streak in the league.

In the second part of conference play, Mitchell's aggressiveness on the boards has been key for Duke.

"My willingness to do anything to get the ball is really what's helped me out," Mitchell said. "We were really upset about losing to Maryland, and from here on out, it's really about taking it out on each opponent that we play."

But by no means will a win be handed to the Blue Devils, as Wake Forest has won five of its last eight games and has a streak of its own to continue. Because the Demon Deacons feature four players who have hit more than 30 3-pointers, they could prove to be a challenging defensive matchup for Duke. Still, McCallie hopes to see the individual components of her players' games come together in one game to serve as the spark the Blue Devils need toward the end of the season.

In essence, it's about combining the rocks that she has in seniors Carrem Gay, Chante Black and Abby Waner with the new forces like Mitchell. Only then will Duke have the composition that it needs to reach its goals, McCallie said.

"It's about pressing, running and attacking and a great offensive attacking game from everybody," McCallie said. "We need everybody putting their energy into one thing and making a special game for us. We look to matchup aggressively with Wake and do what we do."

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