Life as an unranked team begins for Duke women's basketball at Clemson

The Blue Devils will play their first game as an unranked team since 1999 Thursday

<p>Redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell scored 23 points Sunday in the Blue Devils’ victory against Boston College and could do damage from beyond the arc again Thursday at Clemson.</p>

Redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell scored 23 points Sunday in the Blue Devils’ victory against Boston College and could do damage from beyond the arc again Thursday at Clemson.

Whether you want to count it as 16 years, 312 weeks or 2,188 days, Duke has been a staple of the weekly Associated Press women’s college basketball rankings. As of Monday, the third-longest streak in poll history is no more.

The Blue Devils will play as an unranked team for the first time since November 1999 as they travel south to Clemson, S.C., for a tussle with the Tigers at Jervey Gym Thursday at 7 p.m. Although Duke’s conference struggles have been pronounced, Clemson’s state of affairs is no better, as it has yet to win an ACC game.

For the Blue Devils, Thursday is an opportunity to build on momentum that developed in Sunday’s 71-51 win against Boston College. Redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell’s 14-point fourth-quarter performance sparked a late-game run as Duke ran away from the Eagles.

But the pressure of living up to the dominant reputation—and the top-15 billing—that the Blue Devils had earned in years past is no longer present. And for a team that is still growing, it may be a good thing.

“We get into the process of being the best team possible, and I want my team to be comfortable as the top dog, as the underdog or as any dog in the fight,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’re just developing, and our schedule was exceedingly difficult early, but that’s good. It’s taught us a lot.”

Last season, Duke (13-6, 2-3 in the ACC) picked up its sixth loss January 22, 2015, so though this year’s team is on a similar pace, its consistency issues have been more glaring.

Although the Blue Devils lead the conference in defensive rebounds at 28.1 per game, they rank second-to-last in turnovers per contest with 19.1, allowing opponents to get out and run in transition while denying themselves a chance to score on the offensive end.

“We have to understand that it’s a game of runs and how to capitalize on those runs,” junior Oderah Chidom said. “We do well defensively at times and well offensively at times and now it’s our ability to put it together and we’re still working on that.”

Sunday’s win against Boston College was a tale of two halves. Duke held the Eagles to 25.0 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes en route to a 30-18 halftime lead, then the Blue Devil offense exploded for 41 points on 57.7 percent shooting. Eighteen of Greenwell’s game-high 23 points came in the final two quarters, and sophomore Azurá Stevens picked up her 11th double-double of the season.

The key now is for the Blue Devils to sustain that level of effort on both ends of the floor for an entire game.

“[I want to see] 40 minutes,” McCallie said. “Getting toward that is really important to us. We’ve had some excellent quarters and some excellent halves without question, but we definitely need to be a 40-minute team, and that takes a lot of focus and concentration.”

If Duke can string together four solid quarters of play Thursday, it should have a good chance to get back to .500 in conference play. Clemson (4-13, 0-4) has just two double-figure scorers—guards Nelly Perry and Danielle Edwards—and has been outscored by more than 13 points per game.

The Tigers are also allowing nearly six made 3-pointers per game, something Duke will look to exploit with the sharp-shooting Greenwell on the wings. Although this season has been one of peaks and valleys for the Owensboro, Ky., native, her most recent performance showed glimpses of her spectacular campaign last season.

“This is kind of an evolutionary year for [Greenwell] relative to her becoming a player who can ball-fake and have a mid-range game as well as a 3-point game as well as rebounding as well as defense,” McCallie said. “I’m just enjoying her working through that. I know at times it hasn’t been pleasant—it’s hard, but I love the direction she’s moving.”

For the Blue Devils, this season is still very much a work in progress. Numerous injuries and absences have yet to allow McCallie and her staff to install all the pieces of what initially looked to be a deep and talented Duke squad. Redshirt freshman forward Lyneé Belton and freshman point guard Angela Salvadores sat out of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries, and freshman guard Haley Gorecki continues to be sidelined with a hip ailment.

“We’re finally getting parts together,” McCallie said. “[Until now], we haven’t even had the team to form. In regards to our our team, we’re probably going to be late bloomers, simply because we haven’t had all those component parts operating together.”

Wherever the Blue Devils’ true identity may be hiding, with rival North Carolina visiting Durham Sunday afternoon, there could not be a better time for Duke to find itself.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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