A team that was devastated by injuries and reliant on freshmen thrown into featured roles last year, now led by star guards and a scorer who struggles to shoot 3-pointers and trying to work its way back to conference and NCAA contention.
That describes both Duke and Northwestern, as the mirror-image programs will meet in Cameron Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. The Blue Devils and the Wildcats have at least one big difference, though: their level of expectations. Where as Duke declined an invite to the WNIT last season, Northwestern went on a Cinderella run to nearly win the WNIT.
What’s at stake?
While the Blue Devils (2-1) are currently trying to re-establish themselves as a national powerhouse, the Wildcats (3-0) are more concerned about simply getting to a level of annual March Madness participation.
Though Duke's energy may be low after a pair of grueling road matchups, this is a clear trap game, where the Blue Devils are in danger of a gratuitous loss if they don’t take the matchup seriously enough. Three of Northwestern’s last five seasons have ended in 20-plus wins. This is a good program with talent.
Can Duke stop Northwestern's perimeter scoring attack?
Northwestern scores from outside and that’s a problem for the Blue Devils.
Duke’s scoring is often led by guards Haley Gorecki and Miela Goodchild, but they’re still far from lockdown defenders. The Wildcats’ guard trio of Lindsey Pulliam, Jordan Hamilton, and Veronica Burton and their combined 34 points per game should present a tough challenge for Gorecki and Goodchild.
Hamilton and Burton’s lethalness from outside will stress Gorecki and Goodchild’s individual defenses, further stressed by the Blue Devils’ short guard rotation. After playing the second-most minutes of anyone on the team at Texas A&M, freshman Azana Baines finished with least among rotation players at UNLV. She’s not known for her defense and neither is Kyra Lambert, the other reserve guard.
Even Northwestern’s starting center, Abi Scheid is a career 36-percent from downtown. That’s a challenge Duke’s bigs aren’t well-equipped to meet.
Will Duke hang on the boards?
Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie prides her teams on rebounding, but her team is only out-rebounding its opponents by just more than a rebound per game.
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The Wildcats are averaging very similar numbers on the boards, with slightly fewer rebounds per game than Duke and about the same margin over their opponents. But they’re much less spread out in how they get there, with forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah averaging 11.2 boards, 5.5 more than the Blue Devils’ leader.
If Duke bigs Jade Williams and Onome Akinbode-James can keep Kunaiyi-Akpanah and Scheid off the glass, then Gorecki and Goodchild‚the Blue Devils’ leading rebounders—should get plenty of opportunities to get the ball away from Northwestern’s poorer-rebounding guards, which will keep McCallie happy.