So they meet again.
The Blue Devils will host Virginia Tech Thursday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Just two weeks before, the Blue Devils competed with the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va., where Virginia Tech managed to snag early baskets and ended the game with a hefty 22-point lead on the Blue Devils. But a lot can happen in two weeks and now Duke has not just one, but two conference wins under its belt, having taken care of business in the new year with victories against Notre Dame and Syracuse.
The Hokies tallied one more victory to add to their three-game win streak before falling to then-No. 19 North Carolina Sunday night 71-46. With the balances changing so much for both teams ahead of their next match, the contest truly has the potential to go either way. Here are five things to look out for when the Blue Devils get their second opportunity to defeat Virginia Tech.
Anyone watching the Blue Devils (11-2, 2-1 in the ACC) this season knows how consistent the starting five has been. For the first 10 contests, the starters were predictably Lexi Gordon, Celeste Taylor, Jade Williams, Elizabeth Balogun and Vanessa de Jesus. It wasn’t until the group’s first matchup against Virginia Tech (11-4, 3-1) that they saw a change in the starting five—Onome Akinbode-James filled Williams' spot.
Then, there was the Notre Dame game, in which head coach Kara Lawson started Miela Goodchild for the first time and again had Akinbode-James join the ensemble, switching out both Williams and de Jesus. In Duke’s most recent contest against Syracuse, Lawson utilized the same lineup as she did against Notre Dame, which alludes to what may happen in the Blue Devils matchup with the Hokies. However, in that exact match, Taylor sustained a shoulder injury, and Lawson said at her Wednesday press conference that they will not know Taylor's status until game time. With that in mind, the Blue Devils may have a new player enter the starting five for this match.
Vacancy and versatility
In each of their last three matches, the Blue Devils have had to overcome the adversity of not having a specific player. In their first Virginia Tech contest, Shayeann Day-Wilson, Imani Lewis and Emma Schmidt were absent due to entering the University's health and safety protocols. Against Syracuse, Nyah Green missed the match for the same reason. In the situation that another player is absent due to health and safety protocols or injury, as Taylor might be, the Blue Devils will have to prove once again that they can carry on.
Since their loss against the Hokies, Duke has worked every spell in the book to try and do that. The group improvised whenever it didn’t have a particular player, which allowed it to have some of its players reach new heights. One was Balogun’s surge as the highest scoring player for the team on two occasions in the past three games.
Another area of improvement was all around shooting—the group improved from a 30.4% clip from the field against Virginia Tech to 50% against Notre Dame and a 45.3% mark against Syracuse. If a specific starter ends up being unavailable for the match, there is potential that Williams or de Jesus can make a comeback. However, it’s also possible that Lawson starts Day-Wilson, the freshman guard and leading scorer. Though she did not play in the first Virginia Tech matchup, her strong play this year can be enough of a resume to help her snag the fifth spot.
Keep an eye out for Kitley
It’s no secret that Elizabeth Kitley is one of the ACC’s best players. The Blue Devils learned that the hard way as the 6-foot-6 center dropped 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on the court against Duke. Averaging an impressive 18.5 points and 10.8 rebounds, in her second matchup with the Blue Devils, spectators should expect the junior to be one of the group’s most prominent contributors once more. In the Hokies’ 15 games thus far, Kitley scored the highest number of points for her squad nine times, including against Duke.
The last time Kitley competed with the Blue Devils, she got most of her points from edging her way through the paint, where she went 9-of-18 in her field goals. Kitley had no attempts from beyond the arc, which shows that for the Blue Devils to remain successful in restricting the tallest player on the court, they need to stay locked in to a relentless defensive plan.
The Hokies didn’t have it in them to continue their win-streak in their most recent contest against North Carolina. The Tar Heels led Virginia Tech in each quarter to finish the night with a 15-point margin of victory. Kitley was the highest scoring player for her squad, finishing with 14 points while also garnering 17 rebounds. There were many big issues on the floor for Virginia Tech, including a 31% mark from the field and a meager 16.7% clip from downtown—but arguably the most costly was the 21 turnovers the Hokies registered.
Already with the group’s struggling accuracy, the Hokies were at a disadvantage to the Tar Heels who themselves went 43.8% from the field and 44.4% beyond the arc. Yet, along with the turnovers, the lead changed in North Carolina’s favor in the middle of the first quarter and never went back. Through turnovers, the Tar Heels were able to garner an additional 25 points, a number that doesn’t look pretty for any opponent’s morale.
No harm, no foul
Looking back at how Duke played in its last competition against Virginia Tech, it’s clear that the Blue Devils lost the game due to many factors. One was the group’s poor shooting accuracy due to the dominant defense the Hokies administered. Another was the Blue Devils’ 12 turnovers, which led to Virginia Tech getting another 17 points. However, fouling is the most dire area of improvement that Duke must work the hardest to prevent a repeat.
Though Virginia Tech actually registered more personal fouls than the Blue Devils did (16-14), it had more attempts at the line than Duke did. When the Hokies were at the charity stripe, they managed to register an impressive 20-of-20 clip. To prevent a repeat of the free-throw mishap Virginia Tech set upon Duke, the Blue Devils must remain calm and collected and execute its defensive game without relying too much on physical contact.
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Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.