Sunday’s debut of the 2014-2015 Blue Devils in their annual Blue-White scrimmage left fans with many unknowns regarding the form the team will take this season.
Many of these will be addressed with the Blue Devils’ first game against an opposing team.
Duke will take on Limestone at Cameron Indoor Stadium in its first exhibition game of the season Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The Blue Devils begin the year with an entirely different look than the team that exited the NCAA tournament in the second round last season, having lost all but one starter—senior Elizabeth Williams.
For Williams, a three-time All American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year, this season will be the first time Duke does not have the added pressure of being picked to finish first in the ACC; this role been taken over by powerhouse Notre Dame. Williams, along with seniors Ka’lia Johnson and Amber Henson, seems equipped to lead a talented but inexperienced squad on a competitive campaign.
“We’re starting over this year,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I’m excited. This team excites me and they motivate me. I can’t report much because, like you, I don’t know. We’re going to find out how good we can be and what we can do, but it’s going to take competition to truly evaluate that.”
Thursday’s exhibition game against a Division II Limestone team may not be the greatest indicator of the competition the Blue Devils will be facing in this year’s loaded ACC, but the Saints completed their 2013-2014 season ranked No. 17 in the Division II National Coaches Poll and advanced to the Elite Eight of the Division II NCAA tournament.
Limestone will be led by senior forward Celestra Warren, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest a season ago. Warren was named to the WDIIB Super-16 All-America Team and will lead the Saints into the intimidating environment of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke has a significant height advantage over Limestone, with nine players listed at six feet or taller compared to Limestone’s three. This should allow the Blue Devils to dominate the boards and outcompete the Saints in the post. A strong interior presence paired with the perimeter shooting displayed by redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell, Salt Lake Community College transfer Mercedes Riggs and freshman Azura Stevens Sunday will give McCallie plenty of options Thursday.
“Our team dynamic is very strong right now, and that’s what is going to get us far,” Williams said. “How we’re able to play together and how we’re able to hustle and do the intangibles as a group is what sets us apart.”
The Blue Devils unveiled their new talent in a big way Sunday. Of the six Blue Devils who saw their first game action on Coach K Court in the Blue-White scrimmage, three of them—Greenwell, Riggs, and Stevens—scored in double digits. Greenwell led the team with 18 points—all of which came from long-range shots. Riggs had 13 points and ran the offense in dynamic fashion, and Stevens displayed her versatility with 16 points which originated from a combination of shots in the post and from behind the arc.
“It’s just good to get a team out there and run up and down the court with officials,” McCallie said. “They’re a bit tired of playing against each other, so we’re all looking forward to an exhibition here and for something different.”
Duke will host a second exhibition game Sunday against Armstrong State at 2 p.m. The Blue Devils will then begin their regular season at Alabama Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. Duke’s home opener against Marquette is scheduled for Nov. 23 at 2 p.m.
The Blue Devils have all of the components necessary to be a title contender—length in the post, versatility on the wings, and vision at the point. With proper guidance from the experienced players, Duke’s young talent will help determine how far the Blue Devils can go this season.
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