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Duke believes ‘defense wins championships’

The Blue Devils, which rank second in the ACC in both blocks and steals, sees much of their offense stem from defensive effort.
The Blue Devils, which rank second in the ACC in both blocks and steals, sees much of their offense stem from defensive effort.

Come tournament time, it seems that the saying “defense wins championships” dominates media discussion. Some may think the adage is cliché, but defense may be exactly what propels Duke to be the last team standing at the conclusion of the ACC tournament.

Throughout the season, the Blue Devils have relied heavily on their defense to stymie opponents. Entering the tournament, Duke is first in the ACC in scoring defense, limiting its conference opposition to an impressive 52.6 points per game. The team also ranks 20th nationally in the statistical category. It’s something the Blue Devils take great pride in.

“We set a goal for each game of what we want to hold the other team to,” Jasmine Thomas said. “So just having that goal out there and striving for it the entire game and always showing that as a reference is something that keeps our intensity up.”

Duke often depends on its defense to generate extra possessions, as marked by its 12.9 steals per game, good for second in the conference. These takeaways spark fast-break opportunities and facilitate easy buckets.

“We get offense from our defense, so being able to shut down the go-to players on the other team is something we highly focus on, [especially] getting one-on-one stops,” Karima Christmas said. “In our team defense when we play with a matchup [zone], we’re trying to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and knowing where they need to go, where they need to be and just trying to bounce off each other.”

While Duke’s players have honed their offensive skills through practice and repetition, their defensive performances stem from effort, determination and teamwork. Adopting this philosophy, the Blue Devils stress that every member of the team has the capacity to contribute on the defensive end.

“Coming in as a freshman, you’ve scored so many points and that’s how you got [recruited],” Christmas said. “So I guess it’s hard to flip that script and go to a mindset of playing defense first and then letting your offense come. I think we’ve caught onto it, though. [Head coach Joanne P. McCallie] is really harping on defense and rebounding… [since] they start our offense and make it easy on us.”

In order to facilitate this transition to defensive-minded basketball, McCallie called on her senior trio of Christmas, Jasmine Thomas and Krystal Thomas to mentor her five freshmen. The three have certainly not disappointed.

“[They] really set the tone for us and when they’re really focused, they can be extraordinary defensively,” McCallie said Feb. 15 before the Maryland game. “There’s a lot of good leadership there.”

The experience of the senior trio has also helped McCallie implement her sophisticated defensive scheme. Rather than relying on one defensive set, Duke uses multiple defensive looks and presses, from the fullcourt to the halfcourt and quarter-court, to confuse and bewilder opposing offensive attacks.

“We can’t really get bored because we play too many [defenses],” McCallie said Feb. 15. “I think that’s a key, to be a multiple defensive team and be very, very effective with it.”

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