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Duke women's basketball travels to Wisconsin for ACC/Big Ten Challenge battle

<p>Leaonna Odom was one of just three Blue Devils to put the ball in the basket Sunday.</p>

Leaonna Odom was one of just three Blue Devils to put the ball in the basket Sunday.

Following a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Gulf Coast Showcase, Duke heads north with the potential to make history in the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Blue Devils will take on Wisconsin in this year’s version of the series Wednesday at 9 p.m. at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. A victory would improve Duke’s record in the challenge to 10-2 and make it the first program in either conference with a double-digit win total. 

But to do that, the Blue Devils will need to keep the Badgers off the glass. Wisconsin’s 336 total rebounds is the best mark in the country, while the team’s 48 rebounds per game rank 11th. Senior forward Marsha Howard leads the way with 9.7 rebounds per contest, with freshman forward Imani Lewis not far behind at 9.0 per game.

“[We need] to get really aggressive on the boards and really take out [Howard] and [Lewis],” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “They are dominant on the glass and they go hard to the glass, so we are going to have to body hard on those two in particular.”

The Badgers do not just excel in the rebounding department, though. Led by Howard and Lewis, Wisconsin also boasts one of most physical defenses in the country, forcing opponents to shoot a meager 32.3 percent from the floor—25th in the country—and it’s tied for 28th nationally with five blocks per contest. Nevertheless, McCallie believes her team is up for the challenge.

“We had a very physical game against Missouri,” McCallie said. “I think that is part of the game. You want to dictate it by getting position early—offensive position on the block and also in terms of boxing out, making contact and really frustrating them on the boards.”

Offensively, the Badgers (6-1) also enjoy to run through the interior. Howard and Lewis are the team’s only double-digit scorers at 13.4 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. Meanwhile, junior point guard Kendra Van Leeuwen has starred as a distributor. Although the Brantford, Ontario, native is only averaging 4.7 points per game, her 6.1 assists per contest place her 23rd in the nation. 

Furthermore, Howard and Lewis’ superb rebounding abilities have provided Wisconsin with countless second-shot opportunities—the Badgers’ 18 offensive rebounds per game also puts them in the top 20 nationally. That could pose a serious issue for a team like the Blue Devils (3-3), who have struggled on the glass all season long.

“They are comfortable when they get the ball on the inside and high-low post area,” McCallie said. “They are not afraid to put the ball on the floor from the high post. Obviously we have to stop that and frustrate them and not let them get good block positioning...keeping them from second shots is really important.”

Duke’s offensive attack, meanwhile, has struggled to move the ball around. In the Blue Devils’ 62-54 loss to No. 21 Missouri Sunday, the team totaled a pitiful six assists. Overall, Duke is tied for 186th in the country with 12.8 assists per game. 

“It is something we have been working on and it is definitely something that has been a problem as noted by our lack of assists,” McCallie said. “[Leaonna Odom] as a junior is really stepping up for us and is going to need to step up and really take that position until we otherwise can develop [freshman point guards] Rayah Craig and Miela Goodchild.”

After the matchup with Wisconsin, the Blue Devils will return to Durham for a three-game homestand, beginning with a battle against Marist Sunday at 2 p.m. For now, though, it seems that McCallie has her team focused on one task at a time, with one big goal in mind.

“We have gotten better—the best game we have played to date was against Missouri,” McCallie said. “We had some great defensive intensity and we had some great playmaking, we just didn’t do enough for 40 minutes. So we want to continue to improve and continue to get better and rebounding-wise really dominate the glass.”

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