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Duke women's basketball looking to keep up strong defense against Virginia

<p>Haley Gorecki and Duke will look to break their losing streak Thursday night.</p>

Haley Gorecki and Duke will look to break their losing streak Thursday night.

A challenging early schedule has proven Duke to be a talented team with serious issues. 

The good news heading into its Thursday matchup at 6 p.m. against Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena is that the Blue Devils have no problems beating bad teams.

What’s at stake?

Outside of a two-point loss to Wake Forest last week, the Blue Devils (7-7, 1-2 in the ACC) have consistently blown out their lesser competition. The Cavaliers (5-9, 0-3), with losses to Southern California and North Carolina, are certainly a non-contender. Then again, their performances against top teams have been quite similar to Duke’s: several blowouts, but a couple of close losses. How they play against each other will go a long way toward determining the middle of the ACC and whether either can get an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

Can Virginia score any points?

Virginia has scored more than 60 points just four times in their 14 games this season. Of the eight players who have notched significant minutes for the Cavaliers, just two are shooting at least 40 percent from the field. They are a team that, to put it gently, couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. If the Duke defense that looked like a sieve a couple of weeks ago has genuinely been exorcised, we may see some truly frightening numbers from Virginia’s offense.

The Cavaliers do actually present one challenge for the Blue Devil defense. Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie's match-up zone defense has always yielded numerous uncontested threes to teams with multiple sharpshooting wings. Virginia wings Jocelyn Willoughby and Shemera Williams are both capable from deep. The natural adjustment would be to sag off of Dominique Toussaint, the Cavaliers’ non-shooting point guard, and push Duke’s excellent wing defenders into man defense. But McCallie is notoriously rigid with her defensive scheme, making Virginia’s wing shooting a key to the game.

Can Duke score any points?

The Blue Devils are a team full of offensive potential, possessing multiple good passers and several formidable scorers, but they often run into problems when these players head to the bench.

Duke is a team that too often shoots itself in the foot, running schemes that hide its talent and subjecting its players to wild swings in usage. At Louisville, a healthy Leaonna Odom was limited to a bench role, while Miela Goodchild played only seven minutes. That’s relegating two of the Blue Devils’ best players; Odom is capable of dominating entire quarters, while Goodchild often looks like one of the best '3-and-D' wings in the country. 

At the end of nonconference play, lineups with at least one of Odom and Goodchild that played at least five minutes had a positive net rating, while lineups without either were negative over that time and about even against Louisville. Duke’s ability to score against Virginia will depend on whether its less offensively talented players can win in isolation, as it is a team that often does not set itself up for offensive success.

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