Gray’s health, recent disappointments hurt Duke’s chances

When Duke was 19-0, before facing Connecticut, even the New York Times made a case for the team to be No. 1 in the country.

Since then, things have unraveled. And the Blue Devils’ health issues and recent disappointments mean they won’t make the Final Four.

For Duke to make the Final Four for the first time since 2006, the Blue Devils are going to have to be at full strength, especially given the top 15 teams’ relatively even level of competitiveness.

While there is obviously a great divide between the Huskies and Stanford and the rest of the pack, this season has shown that nearly every team is vulnerable to an upset or two on a poor shooting night, especially on the road.

Duke will be concerned primarily with the health of standout freshman Chelsea Gray. The freshman gives the Blue Devils a reliable second scoring option after Jasmine Thomas and has exhibited the ability at times to take the game over offensively. Starting the season on the bench behind more experience players, Gray has blossomed throughout the season, and had become a matchup problem for nearly every team she faced.

That was before a series of unfortunate events threw off Gray’s progress. And it may cripple Duke’s chances of making it to the Indianapolis.

Gray missed the game against Maryland in College Park with the flu. Without their second leading scorer, the Blue Devils crashed to a 69-47 loss. After returning to action in the following game Feb. 20, Gray lasted little more than three minutes against Virginia Tech before an ankle sprain left her crumpled on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor. She would later return to the bench—on crutches. Her status is currently listed as day-to-day, but McCallie admits it might be a stretch to expect Gray to be back and ready to play on short rest.

Gray’s absence puts the Blue Devils in a tough position on both ends of the court. Defensively, her athleticism lended itself to McCallie’s fullcourt press that typically provides Duke with double-digit points off turnovers. In the offensive halfcourt, Gray takes a great deal of pressure off point guard Jasmine Thomas, who tends to struggle shooting the ball in big games. This year, Thomas has shot just 35 percent in Duke’s three losses.

Thomas will be called on to be the primary producer offensively, especially if Gray has trouble regaining her late-season form when, and if, she returns to the floor.

The Blue Devils’ difficulties over the final weeks of the season may haunt them come late March, as well. Ugly losses to the Terrapins and then-No. 2 Connecticut mean Duke likely has played its way out of a top-seed, making the the road to Indianapolis that much more challenging.

While winning the ACC tournament may be enough to place the Blue Devils among the first quartet of teams, they’ll likely have to beat one of the top-four teams in the nation to advance to the Final Four. While the talent is certainly there for a deep run, the memories from the Huskies demolition of the Blue Devils in Storrs, Conn., are still vivid.

For Duke to be considered an elite program, it’s first going to have to beat an elite program.


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