When Joanne P. McCallie became Duke's head coach in April 2007, she had many goals. Her biggest, and one of her most challenging, was to take a team that was plagued by low numbers on the boards and transform it into a rebounding force.
And after two seasons and countless hours in and out of the gym, McCallie has done just that.
The Blue Devils head into the ACC Tournament leading the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounds. After averaging 42.3 rebounds per game last season, Duke has increased that number to 45.5-and three more rebounds per game is no small feat. As a team, the Blue Devils have brought down 50 or more rebounds in eight games over the season while being outrebounded only seven times. For the season, Duke averages eight more rebounds per game than its opponent.
The turning point in the Blue Devils' season was when they were outrebounded by 16 against North Carolina Feb. 9. The performance led McCallie to stress rebounding more in practice and to push her players even more in games. Working with such an aggressive team offensively, McCallie knew her players were capable of more production on the other end of the hardwood.
"By making our rebounding an emphasis, everyone has stepped up to the challenge," junior forward Bridgette Mitchell said. "[Our] willingness to do anything to get the ball and not letting the other team get it is really... what's been good for us."
For McCallie, national championships are won in the paint. Any team can shoot the ball and get numbers offensively, but it's the teams who have the heart as well as the drive to crash the boards day-in and day-out who see success all season long. Looking toward the postseason, McCallie knows continual improvement on the boards is crucial for Duke.
"The thing is consistency, you can't have it one night and then let it disappear," McCallie said. "[From rebounds], you get hustle plays, and you can create offense out of it.... It's offense you need because all these teams are pretty good, and after a while, they get to know each other.... At some point it comes down to who wants it more, and rebounds are a good test of who wants it more."
On the verge of the postseason, the Blue Devils know that rebounding will become even more essential. McCallie sees her team as highly motivated and focused, and as long as Duke can maintain those qualities, she believes it will have what it takes to continue to command the interior.
"The ability to execute broken plays, the ability to rebound, the ability to command and dominate the boards, and the ability to make stops," McCallie said in listing the qualities needed to win a championship. "It's always good to shoot well, but the point is... it's all about the subtleties and rebounding the basketball."
After a year of ups and downs, the Blue Devils consider themselves at their best at the right time. Following a thundering win over North Carolina, Duke goes into the tournament with smiling faces, filled hearts and focused minds. As McCallie said, it's about who wants it more, and at the end of the day, the Blue Devils hope to prove that they not only want it more, but deserve it more than any other team in the ACC.
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