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Duke aims to pilfer Pirates

Jasmine Thomas and the Blue Devils will try to extend their unbeaten streak in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday in Cameron.
Jasmine Thomas and the Blue Devils will try to extend their unbeaten streak in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday in Cameron.

The Blue Devils have never lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

They don’t plan on breaking that streak tomorrow, especially not on their home court.

No. 6 Duke will play host to the 2010 NCAA Tournament first and second rounds at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday and Monday. The second-seeded Blue Devils (27-5) will play No. 15 seed Hampton Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Duke has won 12 straight NCAA games in Cameron by an average of 24.7 points and is 3-0 against 15th-seeded opponents.

Head coach Joanne P. McCallie views hosting the upcoming tournament as a benefit not only for her team but for Blue Devil fans as well.

“I think it’s a great reward for Duke, to reward the long tradition for Duke and give the fans a great opportunity,” McCallie said. “But I don’t think we thought about it a lot during the year. There were too many other things to think about. Now it’s upon us and it’s a great opportunity for us.”

Hampton (20-11) got an automatic NCAA bid after winning its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship. Throughout the season, the Lady Pirates have followed the leadership of leading scorer Quanneisha Perry, who averages 13.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Hampton boosts one of the top scoring defenses in the nation and is ranked No. 13 overall. The Lady Pirates have not allowed more than 48 points in their last six games.  

Indeed, Saturday’s contest will be a defensive battle for the Blue Devils, but Duke also boasts a top-20 scoring defense, ranked No. 17 in the country. Duke has recorded 10 or more steals in seven consecutive games and has reached that total 23 times this season.

Senior Bridgette Mitchell attributes the team’s success throughout the year to the growth her teammates have made.

“This season has definitely been a process,” Mitchell said. “Everyone’s been working hard to get better. Everyone’s individual contributions have gotten us to where we are today.”

Mitchell is the image of improvement for the Blue Devils. In her first three years at Duke, she registered a total of eight double-figure scoring games, but has racked up 10 games scoring double figures this season. Mitchell averages 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.  

Jasmine Thomas has also taken huge strides this season, earning first-team All-ACC honors. The junior leads the team with 15.8 points per game, and is currently the 10th player in Duke history with over 1,000 points and 300 assists. She has also  moved into ninth place on Duke’s all-time steals list with 191 for her career.

Even though playing at home may bring a sense of tranquility to the Blue Devils, Thomas is confident that her team will stay aggressive come Saturday’s matchup.

“I think there can be a sense of comfort, thinking too much of being home and that you’re used to this and that you always play here and thinking it’s going to be easy,” Thomas said. “But this team is not thinking that way. We know the battle we have in store for us.”

While the players have experience in NCAA Tournament play, so does McCallie. In her 18 years as a head coach, she has led 14 squads to the national postseason with a 13-13 overall record. McCallie has won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament in six consecutive years and in her two years at Duke, she has led the Blue Devils to a 3-2 record.

For McCallie, the success she sees on the court since coming to Duke comes from the fortitude of character in the players she is privileged enough to work with.

“I have been extremely fortunate,” McCallie said. “I don’t know if I have ever been so fortunate to be at a place where these women are so bright and eager and so wanting to do things and so smart about things overall. This is extraordinary for me and my family. And I am excited to keep on going.”

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