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ChronSports' 2020 what-if series: Duke women's basketball

<p>Haley Gorecki had a dominant final season as a Blue Devil.</p>

Haley Gorecki had a dominant final season as a Blue Devil.

With the suspension and later cancellation of all Duke athletic competition due to the spread of coronavirus, many Blue Devil seasons were abruptly cut short. The Chronicle is going to take a look back at those seasons affected as well as what we missed out on with their cancellations. We've already looked at men's basketball. Now it's time for women's basketball.

Season summary

On January 19, it looked like Duke was destined for an invite to the NIT and a spot in the cellar of the ACC standings. Up to that point, its season was full of below average play with brief moments of greatness, though those few bright moments were cast into the shadows by bad losses to Northwestern and Nebraska. It was quite the contrary of the high expectations the college basketball world had for the Blue Devils. Duke started the season banged up and had a fully healthy roster by January, yet the pieces just weren't falling into place.  But just like that, the flip switched and the Blue Devils rattled off a 9-2 record after January 19 to end the regular season, adding in quality wins against No. 14 Florida State and then at No. 8 N.C. State to strengthen their case for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

One of the last sporting events to complete before the mass cancellation of athletics nationwide was the ACC women's basketball tournament. Duke had locked up third place in the conference and headed into its first postseason matchup as the heavy favorite against Boston College. But the Eagles pulled off the upset, sending the Blue Devils back to Durham and making for an extremely underwhelming end to Duke's pre-NCAA tournament season. Despite that disappointing loss, the Blue Devils would most likely have gotten an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, providing senior Leaonna Odom and graduate student Haley Gorecki with the opportunity to cap their Duke careers off with a storybook ending. - Jake C. Piazza

Team MVPs

As expected at the beginning of this season, the Blue Devils relied heavily on the veteran duo of Gorecki and Odom. The versatile Gorecki led Duke with 18.5 points per contest, also leading the team in rebounds, assists, steals and minutes. She garnered USBWA Third Team All-America honors and was selected First Team All-ACC by both the coaches and the Blue Ribbon Panel. Odom helped share some of Gorecki’s burden with 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per night, shooting an impressive team-high 54.5 percent from the field. Her breakout performances against Syracuse and Georgia Tech earned her USBWA National Player of the Week, while the California native's overall play led to a Second Team All-ACC distinction by season's end. 

Gorecki and Odom's consistent production was the key to this year’s late-season tear. Unfortunately, the duo had to walk out of the door with their tournament ambitions unfilled, leaving behind them inspiring moments and records in the history of Duke women’s basketball.  - Joe Wang

What we missed out on

Gorecki’s performance as a Blue Devil has only grown throughout her time at Duke, and it’s a shame that she wasn't able to finish off her final season. This year likely would have been Gorecki's first career NCAA tournament appearance, as she was injured during the Blue Devils' 2016-17 and 2017-18 runs. Her explosiveness and ability to lead her team throughout tough battles will be missed. This past season was also Odom’s final year in Durham—the athletic forward had shown she can perform under the bright lights with impressive showings in both the 2017 and 2018 NCAA tournaments.  -Ramona Naseri

Best-case scenario

The Blue Devils appeared to be clicking at the perfect time heading into the NCAA tournament. Even after the loss to Boston College, ESPN had Duke slotted as a No. 7 seed in the Dallas region. If Gorecki, Odom and the rest of the Blue Devils found a way to continue their recent display of ball movement and stout defense, an upset over a high seed during the first weekend was very possible. With the chemistry and late-game poise shown by Duke over the last month of the regular season, it is also possible that the Blue Devils would have found themselves in close affairs throughout the second weekend of the tournament. The amount of experience on its roster, as well as a clear closer in Gorecki, made Duke a dark horse threat in whichever region it was placed in. -Max Rego

Worst-case scenario

On the flip side, the loss to the Eagles may have served as a crushing blow to the confidence of a Blue Devil squad that looked to be streaking at the most opportune moment. Champions are made in March, and if this matchup derailed the stellar chemistry that lifted Duke to wins in seven of its final eight games in the regular season, it could have spelled first-weekend disaster for the team. The Blue Devils may have struggled to pull out a win even in their first tournament game, and would likely flounder in a second contest against a higher seed, representing the end of the road for Odom and Gorecki barring an otherworldly performance from the both of them. The Blue Devils must now use this time to retool, work on their game and make a concentrated effort to do postseason damage in the 2020-21 season, utilizing the plethora of young talent the team will retain through the next two campaigns. -Cam Polo

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