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Lack of physicality on the glass haunts Duke women's basketball in defeat

<p>Haley Gorecki led the Blue Devils with 10 rebounds.</p>

Haley Gorecki led the Blue Devils with 10 rebounds.

Duke did a lot of things right Sunday afternoon against No. 13 Syracuse. 

Even without their top two point guards, the Blue Devils were able to limit star point guard Tiana Mangakahia to just 13 points and seven assists. Meanwhile, Haley Gorecki’s offensive hot streak continued, with the junior guard dropping 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

But one thing Duke did not do well was rebound, and that proved to be the difference between a much-needed upset and yet another conference defeat. Syracuse outrebounded the home team 37-26, winning the battle on the offensive glass 19-9. Those numbers are a large part of the reason why the Orange were able to pull out the 64-55 win despite shooting just 37.3 percent from the floor and turning the ball over 20 times.

“That is part of a couple things: really pursuing it—that has a lot to do with position,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said regarding her team’s struggles on the boards Sunday. “Rebounding is hard to teach, too. There are instinctive rebounders and there are others. It is all those things, it is all combined. It is the eyesore; it is what sticks out when you look at these games. Everybody has to do it. It’s not just for certain players.”

Gorecki posted a game-high 10 rebounds, her third double-double of the season, while teammate Leaonna Odom grabbed eight boards of her own. The problem lay in the Blue Devils’ bigs—sophomore center Jade Williams grabbed just three rebounds in 31 minutes while freshman Onome Akinbode-James totaled just two in 14 minutes of work.

Outside of Gorecki, however, Duke’s bigs did not receive much help from its other wing players. Sophomore Jayda Adams played 34 minutes without registering a single rebound, while 6-foot-1 senior Faith Suggs also finished with a grand total of zero boards.

“Guards have to get used to rebounding,” McCallie said. “We have guards playing a lot of minutes with no rebounds. Everybody has to be a part of that. It needs to be more distributed, without question.”

It is tough to win games in any conference with those kind of rebounding statistics, yet alone come out with victories in arguably the country’s best conference. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils still led Syracuse 26-21 going into halftime, and 31-21 after scoring the first five points of the third-quarter. 

But then, with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, redshirt freshman forward Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi grabbed a missed jumper from teammate Kiara Lewis and hit the and-one layup to cut the Orange’s deficit to 31-24. Less than 20 seconds later, Djaldi-Tabdi—who finished with nine points and five rebounds in 16 minutes—grabbed another offensive board, with the ball eventually finding an open Lewis for a three.

Soon enough, another Lewis trey—who posted 20 points including five makes from beyond the arc—gave Syracuse a 32-31 edge, a lead the Orange would not relinquish the rest of the afternoon. 

Overall, Syracuse dominated on the glass from start to finish—Duke did not record its first board until there was 3:30 remaining in the first quarter. But it was those two offensive rebounds by Djaldi-Tabdi, with the Blue Devils already up 10 and threatening to widen their advantage, that sparked Syracuse’s huge, game-clinching third-quarter run.

“The offensive rebounding—I mean we [were] just about to get possession of the ball and go down for another opportunity to go up 12 or more,” McCallie said. “So this again is yet another lesson in terms of being prepared every minute and being able to capitalize.”

Next up for Duke is Boston College, which ranks 47th in the country with just under 42 rebounds per game. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, entered Sunday averaging 36 boards a night—242nd nationally. For a coach like McCallie who really values the importance of winning the battle on the glass, those numbers are simply unacceptable. 

And if her squad wants to avoid becoming just the second Duke team to miss the NCAA tournament in the last quarter century, something needs to change quickly.

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