Every team has an element that defines it and typically, alongside it, a glue that embodies that element. A glue that keeps the foundation strong and allows every division to be maximized. For Duke, that glue is junior transfer Celeste Taylor.
Due to an injury suffered in the second quarter against Syracuse, she has now missed their last seven games. Amidst their struggle through these seven games, her value to the team has become more and more evident. Right now the Blue Devil’s are without their glue and this promising season that had begun to be built is beginning to crumble.
The gravity of Taylor’s absence is immediately apparent with one simple glance at the stat sheet. Her 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 27.7 minutes per game led the team, as well as being their second leading scorer with 11.7 points per game. Performances like her 24-point, 11-rebound, six-assist, six-steal game against Troy showcased how capable she is at every facet of the game.
As incredible as Taylor looks in the box scores, her impact far exceeds her numbers. Defensively, she’s smart, aggressive, and versatile. Having a versatile player like her that can always be put on the opposing team’s best player is a luxury the Blue Devil’s have lost in her absence. For example, in their win against Iowa, Taylor held national scoring leader Caitlin Clark to just 33% shooting from the field and less than 8% shooting from three. She also isn’t afraid to put her body at risk, consistently diving for loose balls and already drawing five charges on the season. Offensively, Taylor is capable of playing multiple positions and roles, whether it be as a playmaker, off-ball shooter, or interior presence.
Her extraordinary talent and leadership are clear, but how has the loss of it actually affected the team? It’s been profound, to say the least. Since her injury in their win against Syracuse and an 11-2 start to the season, Duke has gone 2-5, dropped to 10th in the ACC, dropped completely out of the AP Top 25, and is currently on a three-game losing streak.
Duke’s field goal percentage has dropped from 45% to 40%, points per game have dropped from 75 to 57, and points per game allowed have increased from 59 to 66. Duke has also not been able to force as many turnovers and its ball movement has slipped. These cracks showed against Georgia Tech, where the Blue Devils gave up 10 points off turnovers to their zero, were outrebounded and failed to break double-digit assists. Their offensive struggles continued and although they were able to play solid enough defense to keep the Yellowjackets under 60 points, they were unable to stop them in the dying moments of the game in order to mount a comeback.
All is not lost, however, and the building has not collapsed. Considering the circumstances, this recent slump isn’t a surprise. Most good teams struggle in the absence of their leader and arguably best player. Additionally, head coach Kara Lawson has missed the last three games due to health and safety protocols. Upon the return of both, the team will have a chance to get back into full form in the coming games to salvage a season that has looked so bright.
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