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Duke women's basketball continues pursuit of first conference victory Thursday against Miami

<p>Mikayla Boykin has starred since returning to the rotation.</p>

Mikayla Boykin has starred since returning to the rotation.

Duke has not had the season it has hoped for thus far, dropping its first three ACC contests for the first time since its 1992-93 campaign.

But the Blue Devils have a chance to turn their ACC trajectory around back at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where they will take on Miami Thursday at 7 p.m. This would be a much needed victory for head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s squad, as the team is in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for just the second time in the last quarter-century. McCallie believes her team’s slow start is not due to poor performance, however, but rather a vastly more difficult conference slate than the program faced a few decades ago.

“The ACC is not what it has been in 26 years,” McCallie said. “It is an entirely different animal. The important thing is to stay in the moment and to be really aggressive. To open [the season] at No. 9 [N.C. State] and No. 2 [Louisville]—that is also unprecedented. So we just got to take it one game at a time and know that all the teams are good and just attack.”

Part of the reason for Duke’s seemingly disappointing campaign falls in the team’s youth—the Blue Devils boast the second fewest career starts of any ACC program at 157. But if that youthful squad is looking for an easy matchup to regain their confidence, they will not get it in the Hurricanes.

Miami ranks in the top 20 nationally in both rebound margin and 3-point percentage, while placing 29th in assists per contest. Duke, however, has an abundance of experience against high-quality opponents—both in and out of conference—so the home team certainly knows what it needs to do if it wants to pull out the win.

“[We need] to handle and dictate the physicality,” McCallie said. “To out-rebound them [and] to pressure them. But at the same time cut off penetration, contest the 3-point shooters and contain the high-low game by the two post players.”

Those two post players include redshirt junior forward Beatrice Mompremier and senior center Emese Hof. Mompremier leads the Hurricanes in both points and rebounds per game, and her 12 double-doubles on the year rank fifth in the country. Meanwhile, Hof anchors Miami on the defensive end of the floor—her 2.33 blocks per contest place her 25th nationally.

“You contain them—you put a lot of pressure on them,” McCallie said regarding how she plans to contain Miami’s frontcourt duo. “When they catch the ball they look to pass—you try to shut down the high-low game through team defense, not really individual but a more team defense approach...and you attack them on offense. You look to attack them and draw fouls.”

The Blue Devils’ most recent loss came at the hands of a Georgia Tech team that has not posted a winning record in the ACC since the 2013-14 campaign. Nevertheless, Duke did have some bright spots during its trip to Atlanta. 

Freshman point guard Mikayla Boykin—who missed nearly a full calendar year due to a torn ACL—recorded 11 assists in the contest, the most by a Blue Devil rookie since 1980. A five-star recruit from the Class of 2017, Boykin living up to her pre-injury potential would be monumental if Duke hopes to right the ship and earn a bid to the postseason come March.

“[Boykin showed] a lot of poise there,” McCallie said. “It was an up-tempo, physical game and I saw her slow down, I saw her control the tempo and I saw her make some very good decisions on her passing.”

But if the Blue Devils want to get in the ACC win column, their veteran leaders will need to shake off a recent shooting slump. Junior Haley Gorecki shot just 8-of-22 from the floor against the Yellow Jackets, a mark that actually raised her season-long field goal percentage to 34.2 percent. If the season ended today, the Palatine, Ill. native’s 16 shots per game would be the highest average in program history.

Following the Hurricanes, Duke will travel to Tallahassee, Fla. Sunday to face off against Florida State. The Blue Devils do not have many more opportunities for resume-building victories, as the team boasts just two remaining matchups against currently ranked teams—Jan. 27 against No. 12 Syracuse and a trip to No. 1 Notre Dame Feb. 21.

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