Even without difference-makers like Kyra Lambert, Mikayla Boykin and Rebecca Greenwell for long stretches, Duke has found a way to put together one of the top defenses in the country. 

But its once-potent offense has been glaringly absent—with a familiar culprit. 

As they have struggled with in recent years, the Blue Devils have been loose with the ball, turning it over nearly 20 times per game during their last three contests—against Maine, Wyoming and Liberty. It all came to a head against Liberty Friday when Lexie Brown and Haley Gorecki combined for 12 giveaways, part of the team’s 24 turnovers on the day. 

To get its offense back on track, No. 14 Duke will have to be cleaner with the ball in its ACC opener against Miami Sunday at 12:30 p.m.. The Hurricanes have forced the eighth-most turnovers per game nationally, presenting a much tougher test for the Blue Devils at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Fla. 

“You can’t score a ton of points if you turn the ball over 24 times. Becca can really score for us, but she’s not a point guard, so you can’t blame Becca being out for that,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Haley and Lexie last game had too many turnovers—[each] is technically a four-point turnaround.”

Despite their struggles holding onto the ball, Brown and Gorecki have certainly stepped up with Greenwell out on the scoring end, combining to score more than 42 points per game. Greenwell will be a game-time decision Sunday after missing the last four games with a knee injury. 

With or without Greenwell on the floor, McCallie wants her team to slow down and take things as they come to them, unlike what they’ve done recently. 

“It’s just rushing and not slowing down and keeping our poise. That’s not what we want to do,” McCallie said. “We want to have more poise on offense and slow down a little bit and don’t force things. And of course Miami is a really good defensive team, so we’re going to really have to get after it, be strong with the ball, meet our passes and make smarter decisions.”

The Blue Devils (11-2) will certainly have to be sharper than they have showed on the road thus far this season. In four road games, Duke has suffered two losses, including an upset at the hands of Villanova and a drubbing from then-No. 5 South Carolina. In those two losses, Duke averaged 53.5 points per game. 

“At Villanova, we lost our poise. Lexie fouled out and we had to play almost a full quarter without her. That’s not ideal,” McCallie said. “With South Carolina, obviously they were a better team at the time and we could not contain them. Those were two challenging road games that we were not successful with. Hopefully, we can draw from experience playing, for example, at South Carolina, and bring that to Miami.”

A once-guard-heavy Blue Devil team will face a post-heavy Miami team that will roll out two centers on the floor for most of the game—Erykah Davenport and Emse Hof, at 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, respectively. In their biggest games this year, the Hurricanes (10-3) have leaned heavily on that duo and figure to do so again Sunday, especially with Duke’s inexperience in the post. 

Erin Mathias and Bego Faz Davalos have the height to keep up with them, but the Blue Devils have struggled against bigger teams. South Carolina outscored Duke with just its 54 points in the paint. 

Davalos has emerged to play a bigger role as the season has gone on, including a strong 21-minute effort against Liberty in which she blocked four shots and grabbed four rebounds. The graduate student and the rest of Duke’s bigs will have keep up that sort of effort and work together to limit the Hurricanes’ offense. 

“We really have to play great team defense against them and really limit them to one bad shot at the basket and continuing what we’re trying to do relative to our shot contesting," McCallie said. "If we can really close the gaps, have great transition defense because they like to score in transition and keep them off the offensive boards, we’re going to be in good shape.”