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Duke women's basketball set for home opener against Elon with room for improvement

Leaonna Odom has scored in double figures in Duke's first two games.
Leaonna Odom has scored in double figures in Duke's first two games.

Duke has not lost a home opener since 1998, and it does not plan on ending that streak this year.

After beginning their 2018-19 campaign with two contests on the road, the Blue Devils will return to Durham Sunday at 2 p.m. against Elon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke has had a disappointing start to the season thus far, getting blown out at Northwestern before barely squeezing out a win at Maine. 

One of the biggest issues for this year’s squad has been on the glass, as the Wildcats and Black Bears combined to out-rebound the Blue Devils 75-65 despite Duke holding size advantages against both units.

“We've got to pursue the ball much more aggressively,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I am very disappointed with our rebounding. It is everybody. They've got to make contact and pursue the ball and get after it. That area must improve.”

Another aspect the Blue Devils struggled with against Maine was free-throw shooting. Duke missed three of its four shots from the charity stripe in the final 21 seconds of the game—nearly handing the Black Bears a chance to win—and converted just six of its 14 total free throws on the night.

The Blue Devils (1-1) lost their top three free-throw shooters from last year to graduation in Lexie Brown, Rebecca Greenwell and Erin Mathias, leaving many to wonder who can step up for Duke in crunch time of close matchups. Nevertheless, McCallie believes her current upperclassmen are up for the challenge.

“I have a lot of confidence in that,” McCallie said. “I just want my team to get experience. I loved the fact that we created the free-throw opportunities that we did. [They just have to] enjoy them and execute them.”

After scoring just 10 points on 4-for-19 shooting in her homecoming at Northwestern, junior guard Haley Gorecki had a career night against the Black Bears. The Palatine, Ill., native dropped 21 points on a very efficient 7-for-12 clip from the floor and also set a career-high with 10 assists. 

“[Gorecki] really slowed down and really found her teammates and had some great execution,” McCallie said. “As we develop our young point guards, it is important for her to create plays. I thought she did a great job both scoring and looking for what she could get but also creating for her teammates.”

Meanwhile, Elon (1-1) started off its season with a 31-point defeat at the hands of North Carolina before turning the table with an 83-54 drubbing of N.C. Central Tuesday. The Phoenix have been extremely successful at forcing their opponents into mistakes, ranking 28th in the country with an average of 24.5 forced turnovers per game. And with Duke struggling to control the ball once again this season, the Blue Devils are going to need to be extra careful on Sunday.

Elon boasts an array of budding underclassmen, including sophomore Emily Maupin. After averaging just 1.6 points across 16 games as a freshman, the 6-foot-3 forward exploded for 18 points and missed just three of her 11 shots in the team’s win against the Eagles. McCallie hopes to put an emphasis on stopping the Phoenix’s go-to options, testing her opponent’s lesser-known scorers.

“[We need] great team defense—focusing on their go-to players,” McCallie said. “We did not do a great job at Maine with their go-to players, so we really need to hone in on some players and understand the value of doing that.”

Following its matchup with Elon, Duke travels to Estero, Fla., for the Gulf Coast Classic. The Blue Devils do not return home again until Dec. 2 against Marist. But whether its games are played at Cameron or elsewhere, McCallie has the same goals in mind for her team.

“We definitely improved from our first game to our second, and now we need to improve from this game and keep that upward climb of getting more aggressive and attacking more,” McCallie said. “Just bringing it up another level.”


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