The Blue Devils sit atop the ACC standings after the first week of conference play, but to stay there, they will have to do something they have not in almost two years—beat a ranked team on the road.
No. 13 Duke will travel to Tallahassee, Fla., to take on No. 6 Florida State at the Donald L. Tucker Center Sunday at 3 p.m. The Blue Devils earned their 10th straight win Thursday at Georgia Tech and hope to earn a fourth consecutive victory against a team that beat them last year. After shutting down top-10 opponents in South Carolina and Louisville with its matchup zone earlier this season, Duke will look to contain a Seminole offense featuring four double-digit scorers.
Although the Blue Devils were able to knock off the Yellow Jackets 75-68 led by junior guard Lexie Brown's 25 point-effort, they committed a season-high 23 turnovers in the win. Turnovers have fueled consecutive 16-point Florida State victories the last two times the teams have met, meaning the Blue Devils know they likely need to take better care of the ball to extend their 10-game winning streak.
The Seminoles have come as close as anyone in the past few years to beating No. 1 Connecticut, taking the then-No. 3 Huskies down to the wire before falling 78-76 in the second game of the season.
“We’ve definitely got to slow down on offense.” Brown said after Thursday's game. “Get our bigs a little bit more involved, and then of course stay active on defense because defense always leads to offense.”
After sitting out last year following her transfer from Maryland, Brown looks completely comfortable in a new system about halfway through the season. The All-American has tied for the lead or led Duke (14-1, 2-0 in the ACC) in scoring in each of the team's last five games as opponents try to slow down redshirt junior Rebecca Greenwell.
Both players average better than 18 points per contest and are lethal from long range, opening up lanes to the basket for sophomore point guard Kyra Lambert and the team's post players.
But before focusing on shooting—the Blue Devils rank fifth nationally at a 49.8-percent clip—Duke will have to take care of the ball against an aggressive Florida State defense that forces more than 20 miscues per game.
Whether it's trying to get the ball to Brown and Greenwell or feed the post, the Blue Devils will have to show more discipline against a team with its own lightning-quick guards.
“[We need to] continue our tenacity, certainty, and our offensive maturity and IQ.” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said Thursday. “Lower our turnovers, of course. I think we got a little crazy this time around, but there’s a lot to learn from this game.”
Veteran guards Leticia Romero and Imani Wright are the most likely candidates to make the Blue Devils pay for any mistakes in transition. The tandem is averaging 34.4 points per contest combined through three conference games—including a nine-point loss to N.C. State—and have both made at least 30 3-pointers this year.
Romero is shooting an impressive 55.4 percent from 3-point range, which should give the Seminoles (14-2, 2-1) a dangerous weapon if Duke plays zone for much of the contest.
The Blue Devils shut down a similar threat in Louisville's Asia Durr Monday, then held Georgia Tech to 36.4 percent shooting after the Yellow Jackets came out hot.
“We just got a defensive energy about ourselves.” Brown said. “We let [Gerogia Tech] come out and take a lot of comfortable shots and get into a really good offensive flow in the first half, so in the second half, we just kind of shut that down, locked down on defense and got some easy scores.”
Despite Duke's recent success, any slip-ups in closing out against Romero and Wright—who fires from long range at a 39.5-percent clip—could leave Virginia Tech as the lone team undefeated in ACC play.
Like most ACC contenders, Florida State also has a reliable scoring option inside in first-team All-ACC forward Shakayla Thomas, who will provide another test for seniors Oderah Chidom and Kendall Cooper.
The tandem has held its own as the Blue Devils have captured three top-20 wins, and is getting used to facing new obstacles in every game as the ACC schedule toughens.
“At this point, they all are [challenges].” McCallie said. “It’s just another opportunity for us. They’re very, very good. Frankly, I think all of these teams have been really good, so we’re just going to focus on us and try to play our game and play smart and take care of the ball a little bit better and rebound better as well.”
A second top-10 win this week would likely get Duke back in the top 10 itself for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign.
Following Sunday's contest, the Blue Devils will return home to take on North Carolina Thursday evening.
“Every ACC game is a battle,” Greenwell said. “We have to adjust to life on the road and be able to pull out these wins.”
Emily Davis contributed reporting.
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