Duke women's basketball hosts Clemson seeking five-game winning streak

Senior Ka'lia Johnson will look to lead the Blue Devils to their fifth straight win Sunday against Clemson.
Senior Ka'lia Johnson will look to lead the Blue Devils to their fifth straight win Sunday against Clemson.

After a convincing road win, the Blue Devils look to extend their four-game winning streak against a Clemson team hungry for redemption.

No. 15 Duke will host the Tigers at Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday at 2 p.m. The Blue Devils have only faltered in one home contest this season—when they lost to No. 1 South Carolina by one point Dec. 7.

“We look at it like each game is a great opportunity to see how good we can be on that day,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We only have a couple home games left. We want to get a lot better and take that with us on the road.”

Duke (17-6, 8-2 in the ACC) is coming off an impressive 70-53 defeat of Wake Forest Thursday in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Blue Devils used a balanced scoring attack to dispatch the Demon Deacons, with four players finishing in double-figures. This shared scoring effort—which has become common in Duke’s recent successes—has allowed the Blue Devils to play with a level of consistency that the team has been desperately searching for throughout the duration of the season.

The majority of Duke’s offense stemmed from dynamic post play. Senior and three-time All American Elizabeth Williams and freshman Azura Stevens combined for 37 points on the night, with Stevens pouring in a career-high-tying 24.

“We need to continue to dominate the paint and really share the ball,” McCallie said. “Having four and five starters in double-figures is really the kind of team we are.”

The Blue Devils have struggled mightily with their free-throw shooting as of late. In its win against then-No. 8 Louisville Monday, Duke shot 53.8 percent from the line. The Blue Devils seemed to resolve this issue in Winston-Salem, however, shooting 66.7 percent from the charity stripe.

Against the Demon Deacons, Duke managed to rein in its turnover problems, keeping the tally to just 15 and forcing Wake Forest into 23 giveaways, leading to 28 points. Considering the Blue Devils are averaging 18.7 turnovers per game—the most for a Duke team since the 1990-91 season—their performance at Wake Forest is a major step in the right direction.

“It’s good to take care of the basketball,” McCallie said. “We made better decisions and we slowed down a little bit and did not try to rush things. Any time we can be under 15 turnovers in a game is very good for us. That’s outstanding.”

Another issue, however, emerged for the Blue Devils on Thursday. Duke grabbed just 34 rebounds in the contest—more than 10 below its season average. The Blue Devils only had 12 offensive rebounds on the night, led by Stevens' two.

The Blue Devils compensated by posting 16 steals on the night, five of which came from senior Ka’lia Johnson. Still, the team will have to clean up its performance on the boards for Sunday’s game.

“Our rebounding has been very disappointing,” McCallie said. “We can be a much more dominant rebounding team in the conference. We have been dominant nationally at times, but the reality is we have not been as dominant as we would like in the conference. Everybody can do a better job at pursuing the ball and getting involved.”

An additional obstacle Duke will have to overcome in its Sunday matchup is the loss of sophomore Oderah Chidom. The forward had been suffering from a lingering shoulder injury and reaggravated it in a tie-up under the basket five minutes into Thursday’s contest.

The Oakland, Calif., native missed two games earlier in the season due to the same injury. Chidom—who started her third consecutive game against Wake Forest—had been stepping up for the Blue Devils after freshman starter Sierra Calhoun’s departure from the team and the loss of freshman Lynee Belton to an ACL tear.

“[Chidom] is sore and they still need to find out more,” McCallie said. “I’m sure she will not play Sunday and we will have to see from there.”

Sophomore Kendall Cooper proved in the second half of the contest that she can step up and fill the role Chidom left vacant. She finished the game with seven points in 18 minutes of play and also went 3-for-3 from the free throw line.

Senior Amber Henson will also contribute to making up for the team’s loss. Although she only had two points, three rebounds, and a steal in Thursday’s contest, she plays a major leadership role as a senior and a captain.

“This is a great opportunity for others to step up—namely Kendall and Amber,” McCallie said.

Clemson (9-14, 1-9) has only won one game so far in 2015 and is currently on an eight-game losing streak. Led by senior Nikki Dixon's 15.4 points per game, the Tigers are hungry for their first win in more than a month, and a chance to upset the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium would be a big way to do so.

A win Sunday would be especially helpful for building Duke’s confidence going into a four-game road stretch. The Blue Devils have not been particularly successful on the road, the site of five of their six losses. Going into this road stretch on a five-game winning streak may be exactly the momentum Duke needs.


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