Duke is off to a strong start under new head coach Kara Lawson and looks to continue its momentum against its third nonconference opponent to begin the season.
The Blue Devils will host East Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 12 p.m., looking to stay undefeated after back-to-back blowout wins against Longwood and Western Carolina. Despite the impressive victories, Lawson sees room for improvement in two key facets of the game.
“Two areas for me that are key—I think this is true for any team, no matter what level that you coach—turnovers, and not putting the other team to the line,” Lawson said.
Duke (2-0) turned the ball over 16 times in its season-opener against Longwood, but was able to reduce that number to nine against Western Carolina. Freshman guard Vanessa De Jesus was particularly impressive in the latest matchup against the Catamounts, finishing with only one turnover in 37 minutes of play.
“I think just being a point guard and handling the ball is a huge thing, so I really pride that," De Jesus said. "And I think as a team, we’re learning each other, and it’s the first couple games for us.”
De Jesus, sophomore Jaida Patrick, juniors Onome Akinbode-James and Miela Goodchild, senior Jade Williams and graduate transfer Sara Anastasieska seem to be emerging as Lawson's primary rotation players. Although it's her first year playing at the collegiate level, de Jesus leads the team in minutes, averaging 34 per night.
Even with those heavy minutes, the California native has been a force on offense, averaging a team-high 15 points per game on 11-for-16 shooting, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. De Jesus will look to continue her impressive start against East Carolina (1-2) and especially once ACC play begins Dec. 9.
Duke shouldn't have too much trouble against the Pirates Saturday. Last season, East Carolina finished with a 9-21 overall record as well as a 6-10 mark in AAC play, ninth in the conference. Furthermore, the last time the two programs faced off in the 2018-2019 season, the Blue Devils won by a landslide score of 83-66.
Still, the Pirates return 89.3 percent of their scoring and 86.5 percent of their rebounding from last season, undoubtedly holding the experience advantage against Duke.
Another factor to look out for ahead of Saturday's matchup is Mikayla Boykin's injury. Lawson said she hoped to have Boykin back "soon" after the senior point guard missed the season-opener against Longwood Nov. 25 with a sore knee, but Boykin remained on the bench Nov. 29 against Western Carolina.
Boykin has struggled with injuries throughout her career, and her ability to stay on the floor will have a huge impact on Duke's season outlook.
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