Was it perfect? No. Were there aspects of Duke’s gameplay that, if better executed, will be lethal against upcoming competition? Absolutely.
The Blue Devils dominated Wingate 86-50 Thursday night in their first exhibition game. Fans were buzzing with excitement, eager to witness the reveal of this year’s squad as they filled Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time since 2020.
From the starting buzzer, it is clear that head coach Kara Lawson has the vision for a team that plays fast and shares the ball. What the team displayed tonight was the intermediate to a potentially remarkable Blue Devil squad.
Transition was important for both Duke and Wingate tonight given the short turnover times from offense to defense. The Blue Devils had a noticeably different approach to transition, however, looking out to point guards Vanessa de Jesus and Shayeann Day-Wilson off of rebounds, who would then immediately take it toward the basket. Thirty-three of Duke’s 86 points were scored off a fast-break, compared to Wingate’s two.
“One of the things we preach is whoever gets the rebound, outlet it to the side and push it past ahead,” head coach Kara Lawson said.
This fast-paced transition gameplay caught Wingate off guard, but Duke’s frequent inability to finish prevented it from ever fully capitalizing. Too often the ball slipped through the hands of a player down low in a half-court pass, or fell into the hands of a Wingate defender in an uncontrolled fast break. Regardless, tonight we saw that the squad has natural speed and the opportunity to be a tempo-setting team throughout this season.
This emphasis on speed was also visible in the team’s quick and frequent passing and shooting. Whether starting or coming off the bench, players hit the court eager to get shots off. Within the first 20 minutes, seven different Duke players had chipped in to the Blue Devils’ 42 points. The team took an impressive 63 shots from inside the paint and attempted 23 from behind the 3-point line. Senior Miela Goodchild came off the bench in the first quarter ready to fire, scoring 11 in the first half, and 52 of Duke’s points were scored by bench players. Though an exhibition game, last night seemed to prove the Blue Devils will not face a shortage of offensive talent or depth this season.
Day-Wilson, a rookie from Ontario, Canada, kicked off her college career with six assists, demonstrating statistically the team’s ability to share basketball.
“Shayeann’s just got a great pace to how she plays, when she gets the ball she’s got a good burst. She really helps shape the game for us with her pace," Lawson said.
Despite this incredible court vision and readiness to pass, the squad fell into periods of high error, allowing for seven steals each half. Nonetheless, the Blue Devils put on a promising show and look ready to put in the work it takes to perform to their maximum potential. Tenacious Blue Devil defense held the Bulldogs to a 35% mark from the floor and forced 21 turnovers throughout the competition.
Looking forward, repetition in practice will be important in order for the team to perfect its fluidity and play execution on the court. Lawson stated her plan to refine defense as well, noting a dissatisfaction with Wingate’s number of straight-line drives and how the team defended the paint overall.
“Some of the mistakes we’re making and some of the mysteries are that we're still getting used to playing with one another. But we want to keep growing and we want to grow through winning,” Lawson said.
It seems that the “Kara era” has brought with it a change in the pace of the game, and it’ll next be on display Nov. 9 in Duke’s season opener against Winthrop.
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