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Duke women's basketball to open ACC play Thursday at No. 9 N.C. State

<p>Haley Gorecki leads the team in assists and steals.</p>

Haley Gorecki leads the team in assists and steals.

After traveling roughly 12,000 miles across 12 nonconference matchups, Duke will need to drive just 23 miles to Raleigh for its first ACC contest of the season.

The Blue Devils will take on No. 9 N.C. State Thursday at 7 p.m. at Reynolds Coliseum still looking for their first win against a ranked team on the season. But, what makes the Wolfpack different from Duke’s two previous opponents in the top 25 is the familiarity between the programs—N.C. State was one of just three teams the Blue Devils faced multiple times last season. That kind of understanding of each other forces each squad to find different aspects of the game to use to their advantage.

“Rebounding becomes a huge part because we know each other so well,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “The teams are more familiar and so some of the intangibles—like blue collar nature, the rebounding—becomes very important.”

The battle on the glass is going to be tough fight to win against a team like the Wolfpack, though. N.C. State (13-0) ranks eighth in the country with over 46 boards per game and places seventh in rebound margin. Guard Kiara Leslie leads the way with 8.5 rebounds and 13.9 points per game, while backcourt partner Grace Hunter follows suit with 6.9 boards and a team-high 14.6 points per contest.

But similar to Duke’s most recent opponent in Florida Gulf Coast, one of the Wolfpack’s most important pieces actually comes off the bench—freshman center Elissa Cunane. The Summerfield, N.C., native is averaging 13.2 points on just 20 minutes a night, fueled by a team-best 63.9 percent mark from the field. Furthermore, junior guard Aislinn Konig has proven herself as one of the top playmakers in the nation, ranking 11th overall with a 3.29 assist-to-turnover ratio.

“They are just a really good team,” McCallie said. “They are like many teams we will face in the ACC—athletic and talented, 3-point shooters, penetrators [and] things of that nature.”

The Blue Devils’ ability to guard the 3-point shot will also be a big factor in the outcome of Thursday’s contest. Duke (8-4) has struggled all year defending the perimeter but really impressed in its win over the Eagles, limiting the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country to just a 7-of-37 clip from downtown. That success will have to continue into the new year if the team hopes to come out of Raleigh with a victory.

“The guards for N.C. State can penetrate hard and they can also shoot the three-ball,” McCallie said. “You really want to discourage the three by having hands up and great on-ball position. And then of course you have got to close out and cut off the penetration and stop them before they get into the paint area. It is a total team defensive effort, it is locating the shooters on the perimeter and at the same time it is being ready to make that one-on-one stop when they look to penetrate.”

Offensively for the Blue Devils, freshman guard Miela Goodchild continues to light it up beyond the arc. The Queensland, Australia native scored 15 points against Florida Gulf Coast and sank three of her attempts from deep, raising her 3-point percentage to an even 50 percent—fifth in the country—and earning her ACC Rookie of the Week honors.

Fellow guard Haley Gorecki, however, is struggling with her shooting efficiency. The redshirt junior shot just 2-of-10 against the Eagles and has converted a meager 35.1 percent from the floor this season. Nevertheless, Gorecki’s versatility—she leads Duke in both assists and steals—has allowed her to contribute effectively despite her shooting woes, and McCallie is confident her star guard will escape her current slump.

“Continue to shoot the ball,” McCallie said regarding what Gorecki needs to do to improve on her efficiency. “She is a great shooter, so be in attack mode. Also to be a little bit discriminating so that her toughest shots are not her first shots in terms of step back threes and things of that nature...she has a complete game and she needs to use her complete game.”

Following the matchup against the Wolfpack, the Blue Devils must prepare for a second top-10 matchup right around the corner in No. 3 Louisville, another opportunity for Duke to pull off a statement win after a shaky start to the season.