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Duke women's basketball set for Valentine's date with struggling Virginia Tech squad

<p>Haley Gorecki struggled to maintain possession against Virginia.</p>

Haley Gorecki struggled to maintain possession against Virginia.

Duke’s 47 points against Virginia Sunday marked its lowest scoring output of the season and caused a fall to 12th in the ACC standings. 

Its next opponent, Virginia Tech, is brimming with its own inconsistencies, and most recently got a smackdown from No. 2 Louisville to boot.

So don’t be surprised if there isn’t a lot of love in the air when the Blue Devils tip off against the Hokies at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium—that’s Valentine’s Day, for the less romantically inclined. The date will certainly be laden with baggage from Duke’s road trip. Sunday’s game slipped away from its grasp in a now trademark botched fourth quarter. The Blue Devils committed eight personal fouls in the final frame, letting the Cavaliers score 10 of their 16 fourth-quarter points on free throws.

“The fouls that we committed, particularly in the fourth quarter…were truly the difference in the game, despite the fact that we turned the ball over and didn’t get to the line ourselves,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

The Blue Devils (11-12, 3-8 in the ACC) must keep their hands to themselves against the Hokies if they want a chance at their fourth conference victory. Virginia Tech (15-8, 2-8) shoots 79.1 percent from the charity stripe, the second-highest mark in the country. The Hokies’ shooting stroke isn’t limited to the foul line, either, as they convert 38.2 percent of their attempts beyond the arc, good for 12th-best in the nation.

Both the young and the old stand out for the Hokies. Freshman guard Dara Mabrey headlines Virginia Tech’s lineup. Mabrey knocks down 48.7 percent of her long-range attempts—the second-highest percentage in nation. The sharpshooter made 41 of her 47 free throw attempts this year and leads her team with 58 assists. Duke will also have to watch out for redshirt senior forward Regan Magarity, who is averaging a double-double. She has recorded five of them during conference play this season, and it’s difficult to see either of the Blue Devils’ inexperienced forwards, Jade Williams or Onome Akinbode-James, stopping Magarity from adding another to the tally on Valentine’s Day.

However, Virginia Tech may find common ground with Duke based on its poor crunch-time performances. The Hokies threw away an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter against No. 22 Florida State Jan. 27, and they came within three points of Louisville in their most recent loss. Add to that overtime collapses against ranked N.C. State and Syracuse squads, and we’re looking at a perfect love match between the Blue Devils and Virginia Tech. It’s even difficult to tell them apart. For instance, the following quote could be from either McCallie or Tech head coach Kenny Brooks:

“We played super hard, we battled like we do, but we certainly need to have a higher IQ relative to finishing games out.”

Can you guess which? It was McCallie, though it doesn’t really matter. Both lead programs which are traditionally cemented near the top of the basketball status quo. Both have been left scratching their heads at the disappointing arcs of their seasons. But only one can walk away with a more hopeful outlook on the future Thursday, and it is McCallie who has more to look forward to in the coming years. Her team is younger, learning and will probably return more healthy and able bodies to the lineup next year.

“Despite circumstances beyond our control, we’ve put ourselves in position to get these games,” McCallie said. “Getting them is something that we’ve worked hard for, and I want us to feel that success together.”

After the Blue Devils’ date with the Hokies, they will have a week’s rest before heading to South Bend, Ind. for a challenging matchup against No. 6 Notre Dame next Thursday. With regard to this Thursday’s game, its result will only determine whether McCallie and her squad’s postgame feast will consist of victory champagne in the locker room—for those of age—or dejection-curing Russell Stover chocolates in bed.