After a heartbreaking 78-62 loss to North Carolina Thursday night, the Blue Devils return to the hardwood Sunday afternoon to take on Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. The fifth-ranked Cardinals head into battle off the high of a two-contest win streak and their 7-1 conference record. It’s clear from the numbers that the Blue Devils aren't favored, but despite that, the group has a chance for a big win and to achieve its goal of playing a solid game on both sides of the ball that head coach Kara Lawson spoke of earlier this week. With that being said, here are five things to look out for as Duke takes on Louisville.
Learning, growing, getting better
With 10 games and only one loss under that before heading into ACC play, the Blue Devils had an opportunity to keep their slate clean. The team has dealt with adversity mostly through missing players (and head coach Kara Lawson last game), making it difficult for Duke to show the same prowess it displayed before ACC play commenced. But as eight conference games are now done, and with the team featuring a balanced record of wins and losses, the group is in a pivotal spot. Looking at the areas in which the Blue Devils have struggled, Duke has focused on fine-tuning the efforts that may help revive the conference season.The Blue Devils must execute the fundamentals the game needs them to excel at to do this.
“I think the goal is to try to do both—to be really stingy defensively and to be able to put up some high numbers on the board scoring there,” Lawson said in her weekly Zoom press conference Wednesday. “But we haven’t been able to do both yet in ACC play. So, I think that’s still attainable for us. I think it’s out there. I think we’re learning; we’re growing; we’re getting better. And I would hope that that would be something in the cards for us, as we hit the middle of our conference late.”
After taking a massive blow to the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils may very well be playing their last matchup as a ranked team for the time-being. Given that this Cardinal squad has a handful of players on watch lists, including the Cheryl Miller and Katrina McClain Awards and two athletes on the USA 3x3 women’s team that represented at FIBA, the outcome does not look favorable. On top of that, Louisville only has two losses, which may come off as intimidating for the Blue Devils, which have now tallied five losses, including four in the ACC.
Deep bench matchup
On either side of the ball, plenty of skilled players can provide for their teams. The Blue Devils play no small-ball game, with a constantly switching starting lineup within ACC matches and another handful of players who come off the bench to provide. There have been at least 20 points off the bench in each of Duke’s last two matchups, proving the talent and collaboration that the Blue Devils lean on.
Louisville has also been efficient in having bench players contributing to the score. The group has scored 22 and 25 off the bench in its last two games. N.C. State was its last competitor to not allow them to have a lot of bench points. With strong benches on either team, the match has the potential to be highly competitive, at least when it comes to keeping the ball in possession and draining the shots.
Upping the defense game
Though Louisville will be a dangerous target for the group come the 3 p.m. tipoff, Duke could still put on a show. The Cardinals are strong in their 3-point shooting with a 37% mark from downtown on the season. Along with that, the squads are also close in the number of field goals they have made, with Louisville leading the pack at 519-of-1161 to Duke’s 475-of-1095. With those numbers in mind, it’ll be vital for Duke to watch out on the Cardinals’ efficiency from downtown to prevent them from getting any better than they are. On top of that, the Blue Devils must also work to restrict their opponents as best as they can from entering the key to give Louisville a difficult match to finish.
“We challenge our players to do both [guarding threes and drives to basket] defensively, if you're guarding somebody, you should be able to keep them from getting to the basket, in addition to getting a hand up on a 3-point shot,” Lawson said. “.... Because people can are going to take contested shots. But that's kind of how we approach to help.”
Keep the ball tight
The 2021-22 Louisville squad has had success in keeping the basketball in its arms. The group outperforms the Blue Devils when it comes to steals and turnovers—registering an average of 21.7 points off turnovers and 10.2 steals per contest. On the other hand, Duke only averages 15.6 points from turnovers and 7.2 steals per game. When they face the Cardinals, the Blue Devils will need as many possessions as possible and should take any placed shots they can muster to play the game they want to. In the Blue Devils' last competition against North Carolina, Duke registered 18 turnovers to the Tar Heels’ six, something that proved to be decisive in the final score.
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