Duke looks to continue its strong start to the “Kara Era” as it gets into the thick of its nonconference schedule.
The Blue Devils welcome Western Carolina to Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday for their second nonconference game of the season. Head coach Kara Lawson’s squad is coming off a landslide 94-64 victory against Longwood in its season-opener Wednesday, and while no one expected the Lancers to be too much of a challenge, a 30-point victory in Lawson’s first outing as head coach is undoubtedly an impressive way to begin the year.
“It was a big thrill for all our players to be able to play the game today,” Lawson said after Wednesday’s contest. “So [we’re] excited about starting off on a good foot.”
Duke (1-0) was relentless Wednesday, battering its opponent for all four quarters. Among the standouts in the contest were sophomore guard Jaida Patrick, whose 21 points nearly doubled her previous career high, and freshman guard Vanessa de Jesus, who tallied 13 points on just nine shot attempts in her college debut.
Patrick and de Jesus started alongside senior Jade Williams as well as juniors Miela Goodchild and Onome Akinbode-James in the season-opener, but don’t expect that to be Lawson’s starting group every time out on the floor. Especially as Duke continues its relatively light nonconference slate, Lawson will use this time to feel out each player’s strengths in game situations.
“We try to have a system that's flexible enough to change and to look different depending on who's on the court for us,” Lawson said. “And then also depending on who we’re playing, and who's on the court for the opponent. So hopefully, we're able to keep that flexibility.”
One looming question is whether senior point guard Mikayla Boykin will return from injury and make her season debut. Boykin missed the Longwood game with a sore knee, and her timetable to return remains unclear.
“We're hoping to have her back soon,” Lawson said Wednesday. “When that'll be, I'm not sure, but I'm hoping real soon. She's obviously an impact player for us, somebody with great experience. We don't have a lot of players with experience on our roster."
The more minutes Boykin can get under her belt before the Blue Devils’ ACC opener Dec. 9 against Louisville, the better.
Western Carolina (0-1), meanwhile, should pose little threat to Duke even if Boykin doesn’t take the floor. The Catamounts finished last in the Southern Conference last year with a 2-12 record, and an opening 59-70 loss at UNC Asheville indicates they won’t fare much better this season.
With 2019-20 top scorer Jewel Smalls having transferred to Delaware, Western Carolina boasts a small and young roster. Expect to see an evenly spread effort and a lot of ball movement, as just about every matchup is sure to be a mismatch of either height, skill or both.
Overall, Duke has won 61 consecutive games against nonconference opponents in the state of North Carolina and the Catamounts have not beaten the Blue Devils since 1978, so it’s safe to say Lawson and company are heavy favorites. Nevertheless, nobody is safe from the occasional early-season shocker.
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