On Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils left Cameron Indoor Stadium in defeat for the first time all season.
No. 19 Duke now has the chance to rebound and finish out its three-game homestead strong against Wake Forest, which recently snapped a six-game losing streak. The Blue Devils welcome the Demon Deacons for a 7 p.m. clash Wednesday, looking to regain offensive consistency and rhythm despite grappling with a host of injuries.
“The first thing we did [after the loss] was show the players how many times we missed each other offensively,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Sadly, there were about 18 clips of missing the open player. The first point we made is that, offensively, we need to find each other better, quicker and move the ball more. There was too much catch, dribble dribble, catch, dribble dribble. You can’t let the defense catch up to you. It was pretty overwhelming for them to see so many points on the table.”
Fielding an unconventional lineup of three post players and just two guards, Duke (18-6, 7-4 in the ACC) sputtered to just 54 points against Notre Dame, its third-lowest total all season. Although part of the blame for that performance can be attributed to subpar perimeter shooting, a lack of open shots plagued the Blue Devils.
Duke’s 11 total assists marked its second-lowest total in conference play all season—its lowest came with eight in a 51-48 offensive disaster against Miami. To compound matters, no individual player collected more than three assists. With redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki still battling a hip injury and expected to miss the next two games, the same lineup that took the floor against the Fighting Irish will have another chance to jell as the ACC tournament rapidly approaches.
“There’s a lot we haven’t discovered and put together by the kids on this team,” McCallie said. “And what I mean by that is the kids that are healthy. [Freshman Jade Williams] needs to stay in the game and not foul out. Erin is a senior, she has experience, she needs to let that rip, and despite the fact that we don’t have Haley, Mikayla [Boykin] or Kyra [Lambert]—three point guards—despite that, we still have a lot of opportunities.”
To have success against Wake Forest (11-12, 3-7), the Blue Devils need to replicate one item from their last performance against the Demon Deacons. Despite committing 15 turnovers, Duke worked to create space on the floor, finishing the game 9-for-18 from beyond the arc.
As a part of that offensive efficiency, the Blue Devil guards attacked the hoop. Overall, the team finished 19-for-20 from the charity stripe, far and away their best performance of the season. That aggression and success from the foul line propelled Duke, which will look to generate a similar result Wednesday.
“This is a game of getting it done technically,” McCallie said. “You’ve got to get to the free throw line. You’re not going to beat a top-10 team [like Notre Dame] with getting to the free throw line seven times. There’s that reality that we’ve got to be more aggressive, pure and simple."
Wake Forest outrebounded the Blue Devils 37-33 in their last matchup. That negative-4 margin is the Blue Devils’ second-worst in conference play thus far. Of particular concern to the coaching staff is the way the Demon Deacons dominated the glass on their offensive end. Wake Forest grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and used that advantage to dominate Duke in second-chance points.
That Jan. 11 contest between the teams came at the end of graduate student Rebecca Greenwell’s midseason injury spell. Greenwell came off the bench in that contest and scored 23 points, but her absence from the starting lineup was noteworthy because it meant that the Blue Devils' starting five included three forwards—a similar lineup that will take the court Wednesday.
With five games left in the regular season, all eyes will be trained on how the new starting five meshes in Gorecki’s absence. After the conclusion of this homestand, Duke travels to take on Clemson for an afternoon tilt Sunday. The Blue Devils return home for their final top-25 matchup of the season against No. 12 Florida State next week. With the postseason rapidly approaching, McCallie’s goal for the team is clear.
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“That’s easy,” she said. “Playing off each other.”