Duke has yet to defeat a ranked opponent this year, its only opportunity ending in a close 62-54 loss to then-No. 21 Missouri in the Gulf Coast Showcase.
The Blue Devils hope to change that Thursday when they take on No. 11 Oregon State at 10 p.m. at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore. Duke would have had a chance for its first ranked victory Dec. 9 against then-No. 22 South Carolina, but a snowstorm across central North Carolina forced the game to be postponed, lengthening the Blue Devils’ already-extensive final exam break to a full two weeks.
“It [was] an event outside our control,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Obviously we wanted to play South Carolina, particularly at home. It was setting up for a very challenging and exciting game, so it was disappointing no doubt. But you kind of got to go with it...mother nature spoke so to speak, and you just make the best of it. We try to scrimmage with officiating, try and get back in the flow, pipe in some crowd noise—Oregon State has a big crowd. So, you try and prepare as much as possible.”
Although Duke (6-3) did not get the opportunity to take on the Gamecocks, the Beavers will still certainly give McCallie’s squad a challenge before ACC play begins. Oregon State (8-2) plays a fast-paced style of basketball that is constantly looking for open shooters beyond the arc, something that will test the Blue Devils’ 176th-ranked three-point defense. The Beavers rank ninth in the country in 3-point field goals per game, fourth in 3-point percentage and 11th in assists per game.
“You really got to be smart and play from the outside-in, anticipating the 3-point shooters,” McCallie said. “There is no question that they move the ball very quickly. There must be ball pressure—make them put the ball on the floor maybe a few more times than necessary.”
That fast-paced offense is driven by redshirt sophomore point guard Destiny Slocum, whose 14.4 points and 5.7 assists per game lead the team. Slocum began her collegiate career at Maryland, coming in as ESPN’s No. 7 overall recruit in the Class of 2016 and eventually taking home WBCA National Freshman of the Year honors before transferring to Oregon State.
But due to NCAA transfer rules, the Mountain View High School product had to sit out all of last season, meaning she was not on the floor when the Blue Devils’ defeated the Beavers in the programs’ first-ever meeting last November.
“[Slocum] is a very, very good player one of the best point guards in the country,” McCallie said. “I think that makes their team very unique and different from last year to this year. She is a creator [and] she likes to go full-court, so it is going to be very important to keep her in front and not let her get angled to the bucket.”
Another strength of this year’s Oregon State squad is its rebounding. The Beavers haul in the nation’s second-most defensive boards per game and place 14th in overall rebounding, led by 5-foot-10 junior guard Mikayla Pivec’s 9.2 boards per contest.
“It is quite a challenge,” McCallie said regarding keeping Oregon State off the glass. “It is very important that everybody keeps contact makes contact. They are an excellent defensive rebounding team, especially [Pivec]—she is their leading rebounder overall and that is coming from a guard spot. But it is a matter of contact and getting around them.”
Offensively, Duke will be aided by the improving health of point guard Mikayla Boykin, who will be playing in just her second game after tearing her ACL in December last year. After sitting out nearly a full calendar year, the redshirt freshman notched 11 points, six assists and five steals in the Blue Devils’ win over UNLV.
Boykin will likely also spend some time trying to contain Slocum on the defensive end, providing her the challenges she needs as the Clinton, N.C. native attempts to return to the form that saw her as ESPN’s No. 20 overall recruit in the Class of 2017.
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“It is a long journey back for her,” McCallie said. “She has been amazing. She was very strong in our game against UNLV [and] very efficient in only 20 minutes.... Her assists and her ability to see the floor are one of her best attributes and when she is able to do that it opens up the floor.... She is working on getting in game shape. Obviously if you have not played in a long time you got to get in game shape, so that will be kind of a step-by-step process for her.”
Following Oregon State, Duke will take another break for Christmas before returning to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on East Carolina Dec. 28. But if the Blue Devils want to be prepared for the ultra-competitive ACC, they will need to bring their A-game against their tougher non-conference opponents.
“In this game, what we are looking for is 40 minutes of game-face, 40 minutes of focus—not being distracted [and] not getting frustrated,” McCallie said. “You are trying to quiet the crowd. You try to do that by execution and controlling the tempo of the game and so there is a lot of intangibles that we are looking to get out of this game. And if the intangibles are taken care of, then the scoreboard has a great chance of being in our favor.”