College players rarely get a realistic opportunity to lead their teams to a win against a conference foe for just the second or third time in their lifetimes. However, for some of Virginia’s players, Sunday’s game in Durham will give them just that chance.
No. 16 Duke will play host to the Cavaliers Sunday at 3 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a welcome home game for the Blue Devils, who play six of their first eight conference games on the road. After dropping its first two ACC games on the road, Duke has posted back-to-back double-digit wins to return to .500 in conference play, including its first road ACC win against Wake Forest Thursday.
Virginia arrives in Durham riding an eight-game win streak that includes a perfect 5-0 start in ACC play. But the Cavaliers have yet to face any of the tougher teams in the conference—their opponents have combined for just five ACC wins this season.
“We played with good energy [at Wake Forest], some pretty good poise. We definitely have some things to improve, but it was a good solid game for us,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said after Thursday's game against the Demon Deacons. “We’ve got a tough one on Sunday, but they’re all tough at this point.”
If history is any indicator, Sunday’s contest figures to be a tough one for Virginia (12-6, 5-0 in the ACC), which has dropped the last 25 contests between the two programs, a streak stretching back nearly 18 years to a Jan. 30, 2000, upset in Charlottesville, Va., when current Cavaliers head coach Joanne Boyle was an assistant for her alma mater at Duke.
Incidentally, 2000 was also the last year Virginia opened ACC play 5-0. The last time the Blue Devils dropped a game in the series at home was three years earlier in a blowout defeat to the then-no. 11 Cavaliers.
But Duke will likely face a more difficult game Sunday than it is used to against a Virginia program that has only come within double digits of the Blue Devils once since 2009. The Cavaliers are led by Dominique Toussaint, who is averaging 11.6 points and 3.8 assists per game for a team that has not lost since Dec. 2. Felicia Aiyeotan, Virginia’s anchor in the post, leads the ACC in blocks and is 10th in the conference in rebounds.
Duke (13-4, 2-2 ACC) is coming off a convincing 80-67 road win at Wake Forest, its first conference win away from Durham this season. Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown each had stellar performances, combining to score at least 50 points for the fifth time in their two years on the court together in Durham.
Greenwell posted a season-high 23 points as she netted a trio of shots from beyond the arc to set the all-time program record for made 3-pointers. Brown added 27 points, bringing her total points from the past two games—the other a 13-point win against N.C. State—to 61 points on 52.9 percent shooting from the field.
“[Greenwell and Brown] are so active both offensively and defensively, and they move well together,” said McCallie. “They really just gave a great balance. There’s different ways that they can score, and we just have to keep building, because you can imagine having that happen and then have a few others join in.”
Although McCallie had much to be proud of after Thursday’s win, the Blue Devils nevertheless struggled on the boards, and were outrebounded 37-33 despite being the tallest team in the conference. Virginia is the second-tallest team in the ACC.
Heading into Sunday’s conference matchup, Duke has been outrebounded in each of its past four games by an average margin of 3.7 boards per game. And although foul trouble for the team’s bigs played a role in Thursday’s struggle down low, the Blue Devils will need to improve as a team to contend with the Cavaliers on the boards.
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“Rebounding, rebounding, did I say it [enough]? We’ve got to take a look at that and really get motivated,” McCallie said. “All these teams are physical and can really play, so we’ve got to work at that.”