Despite entering the ACC tournament with the lowest seed in program history at No. 11, the Blue Devils believe that their record understates a solid campaign and hope that they can make a deep run in the conference tournament at Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C this week.
Duke will start its postseason run against No. 14 seed Pittsburgh Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The Blue Devils are undefeated all-time against the Panthers, boasting a 10-0 record and won at home 74-55 in early February. Haley Gorecki and Miela Goodchild combined for 36 points in that contest, with the former tallying the eighth triple-double in school history.
If the Blue Devils emerge victorious, they will play sixth-seeded Florida State Thursday evening for the chance to face off against No. 3 seed N.C. State in the quarterfinals Friday. Duke lost to the Seminoles in a tight 66-62 decision on the road and saw just three players contribute in scoring all night.
“If we keep getting better, we’re just going to have to see how we do," McCallie said. "You can’t march on based on your past. That’s the thing about a tournament, all records are gone.”
Currently riding a three-game winning streak, Duke had an up-and-down regular season that saw the team lose nine contests decided by 10 or fewer points. Although the Blue Devils lost to the top-two seeds Notre Dame and Louisville by more than 20 points in the regular season, they played N.C. State and No. 4 seed Miami closely, showing that young squad has the potential to make some noise.
“I think the thing about it is, we’ve been getting better all season. Every single game, every single opportunity. If you look at our margins, we’re minus-four in the ACC, which means a lot of these games could’ve turned the other way, and that’s going to be a frustration for us to think about,” head coach Joanne McCallie said. “I feel like we’ve been getting better for a long time. I think it shows up now with more W’s, and of course, that’s great. We want those. But it’s definitely been a process, each time we’ve lost a point guard, each time adversity hit, there were things that we have to deal with.”
Duke (14-14) is led by the duo of Gorecki and Leaonna Odom, who have replaced the scoring and leadership of Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell. Gorecki is looking to be the first Blue Devil—and just the seventh in ACC history—to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists. The redshirt junior, whose Duke career has been riddled with injuries, is stuffing the stat sheet with 17.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.
With 11 games of 20 or more points, Gorecki has been the driving force behind the offense and hopes to be even more effective in the postseason as her turf toe heals.
“I want to say Haley’s been amazing. Haley has not been practicing at all. At all. She’s got turf toe, on top of everything else,” McCallie said. “What I’m saying is that the adversity that we’ve faced and the way the team has handled it.”
Odom has been the jack-of-all trades for the Blue Devils this year and has been forced to adjust her role on the team as the team has faced injuries. Officially listed as a forward, the junior was thrust into the point guard role after Kyra Lambert tore her ACL for the second consecutive season and Mikayla Boykin went down with the same affliction against the Hurricanes in mid-January. Odom, the only starter with meaningful ACC tournament experience, is shooting 50.6 percent from the floor—good for eighth in the ACC—chipping in 13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
“Yeah, I’d say I’m getting very comfortable running the point guard position,” Odom said. “I think this is probably my first actual year running the point guard position in my whole career and so it was a learning adjustment the whole season but you know, it’s coming and I think we’re coming together as a team as well.”
The third cog in the Blue Devil rotation is Goodchild. The freshman started the season coming off the bench, but has become a starter with her lethal accuracy from deep. The Australian is top-10 nationally in three-point percentage at 44.2 percent and is averaging 14.0 points and 2.0 assists over her last 11 games. Goodchild’s ability to space the floor allows the likes of Gorecki and Odom to drive inside and draw contact—the two average 8.7 free throw attempts per game—or kick out the ball for an open trey.
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“People can rest on what they’ve done, that’s all about placement in a tournament," McCallie said. "A tournament is about finding a way to play your best basketball regardless of who you play and marching forward. That’s the experience we’re going to focus on.”