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McCallie seeks 600th career win as Duke women's basketball hosts Liberty

Leaonna Odom's production has dipped since Duke's first six games.
Leaonna Odom's production has dipped since Duke's first six games.

After holding opponents to 40 points or less for a program-record three consecutive games, the Blue Devils can tie the ACC record of four straight Friday evening. 

No. 14 Duke hosts Liberty at Cameron Indoor Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday, concluding a five-game homestand against nonconference opponents prior to the start of conference play on New Year’s Eve. With a win, Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie would become the 39th coach in NCAA history to reach 600 career wins. 

“It doesn’t matter who you play and when you play, to play defense and to be intense, I think that’s excellent,” McCallie said after Duke's last game against Wyoming. “It’s something I’ll remind the team of and see if we can still work on it—obviously scoring more points and still holding the other team down.”

Last season, Duke (10-2) used dominant second and fourth quarters to easily handle Liberty 98-38. Rebecca Greenwell led the Blue Devils with 28 points in that contest, and all eyes will be on whether the graduate student makes her return after sitting out three consecutive games with knee pain. With the conference opener against Miami just two days away, it may be wise for the Owensboro, Ky., native to log game minutes after three weeks off from competitive play. 

With Greenwell—who sits just two made 3-pointers from setting the program's career record—out since Dec. 7 and highly-touted freshman Mikayla Boykin sidelined for the season, graduate student Lexie Brown has capably filled the gaps. Brown has garnered back-to-back ACC Player of the Week nods, averaging nearly 25 points per game in the last four contests.

“We do say ‘Wow’ because she’s very good,” redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki said after the victory against Wyoming. “I don’t think our level of energy falls or goes up. We stay pretty consistent. People do step up. But I don’t think we’re scared or nervous when Lexie goes out.”

Gorecki has blossomed in Greenwell and Boykin’s absence. After spending more than a year and a half recovering from hip surgery, she has featured prominently for the Blue Devils in the last three games and will continue to be leaned on heavily heading into conference play. Gorecki averaged 15.7 points per game in the three games Greenwell missed, shooting just under 40 percent from beyond the arc. 

As the ACC’s best 3-point shooting team—largely thanks to the efforts of Brown and Greenwell—having another dependable player to connect from downtown will force opposing defenses to closely guard the perimeter, opening up space down low for senior Erin Mathias and sophomore Leaonna Odom. 

Odom, heralded by both McCallie and her teammates at the start of the season as the team’s most athletic player, has seen a dip in offensive production after a strong start. The Lompoc, Calif., native averaged 12.5 points per game through the team’s first six games, but has put up just 5.3 points per contest in the last six. After a month without a double-double, the Blue Devils need to help Odom recover her offensive rhythm in order to effectively spread the floor. 

Liberty (5-6) returns four of its five starters from last season’s home defeat to the Blue Devils as it looks to rebound from a 65-57 defeat to Northern Colorado Dec. 20. The Flames feature a youthful lineup with significantly less experience than Duke’s veteran starting five. Three sophomores and one freshman took the court for Liberty against the Bears, though the Flames have had nine different players in the starting lineup throughout the season. 

The team’s lone starter in all eleven contests is junior KK Barbour, who averages 9.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Barbour, along with sophomores Keyen Green and Kierra Johnson-Graham, leads the team’s strong frontcourt. Liberty has struggled throughout the season from beyond the arc, shooting just better than 30 percent. That means Odom and Mathias will have their hands full with the trio of Barbour, Green and Johnson-Graham, making for an exciting battle down low. 

After five games in Cameron, the Blue Devils will open ACC play with two games on the road, including a New Year’s Eve contest against Miami followed by a Jan. 4 tilt at Louisville. Duke returns home Jan. 7 for a matchup with N.C. State. 


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