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5 things to know before Duke women's basketball hosts Northwestern for ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Shayeann Day-Wilson surveys the court during Duke's Nov. 12 win at Davidson.
Shayeann Day-Wilson surveys the court during Duke's Nov. 12 win at Davidson.

Entering on a three-win streak, Northwestern heads to Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday for a 5 p.m. matchup against the Blue Devils. This will be Duke’s first game following the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, where the team lost in a first-round matchup against UConn before redeeming itself Sunday against Oregon State. Here are five things to know heading into Duke’s game against Northwestern.

Similar stats

Northwestern and Duke head into a matchup that may hold them toe-to-toe for all 40 minutes of play. In seven games, Duke is averaging 68.7 points per game while hitting 42.9% of its field goals and 21.9% of its 3-pointers. In comparison, Northwestern is scoring 69.8 points per game, making 41.2% of its field goals and 31.8% of its shots from downtown. Inside the arc, the teams are evenly matched; when it comes to threes, though, the Wildcats evidently have the better shot.

It is the same story with rebounds and steals—Duke is averaging 40.7 rebounds and 9.6 steals per game, Northwestern is averaging 39.7 and 10.2. Based on these numbers, fans lined up in Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday night should be faced with two teams matching ability and energy, each looking to reshuffle their own stat line to take home a victory.

Transition offense

In their most recent game against Oregon State, the Blue Devils had 17 points off of fast breaks and 20 total points off turnovers

“We try to be a team that's disruptive, and I thought we did that in stretches of the game,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the win. 

Often running a full-court press, Lawson has enabled her team to find fast-break opportunities. Combining Duke’s ability to make the most of a steal with Northwestern’s 18.8 turnovers per game might just mean a recipe for a Blue Devil victory Thursday night.

Hitting shots

It may be redundant at this point, but the Blue Devils need to hit their shots. Against UConn, Duke shot just 32.8% from the field; against Oregon State, it was not much better at 34.8%. 

“We played a really good team,” Lawson said after Duke’s Friday loss to the Huskies. “And we weren't able to match their ability to score.”

The issue with shooting for Duke has been its lack of consistency. Sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, who led the Blue Devils with 17 points against the Huskies, went 1-of-8 for two points against Oregon State. On the flip side, senior guard Celeste Taylor knocked down an impressive 18 points against the Beavers to propel Duke to victory, but only managed to sink two field goals against UConn.

Shorthanded roster

Duke carried an undefeated record until its loss to the Huskies, combining a wide range of talents offered from players like junior center Kennedy Brown to sophomore guard Reigan Richardson. But in the last few weeks, the Blue Devils have lost their rhythm—and one of their best players.

Graduate student Taya Corosdale, who rotates between the forward and guard positions, has been out with an unspecified injury since Duke beat Davidson Nov. 12.

“Hopefully, she'll be back soon—she definitely helps us with her size and with her competitiveness,” Lawson said of Corosdale Friday. 

Duke has suffered from the 6-foot-3 versatile wing’s injury, missing her experience in college ball as much as her individual talent. However, the Blue Devils cannot afford to have their season record dependent on one player.

“We just had too many people play non-competitively today,” Lawson said Friday.

Based on recent performances, it looks like Taylor and Day-Wilson are left to alternate carrying the weight of the scoring, accompanied here and there by senior guard Elizabeth Balogun, who was able to garner 20 total points in her last two games. Duke’s deep talent seems to be under threat of evaporation—without Corosdale, it suddenly seems rather shallow.

Defensive energy

To perform well against the Wildcats, Duke needs to round off its performance with quality defensive work. The key to this is effort.

“We need to find a way to have a better competitive fire than we did [against UConn],” Lawson said. “We just didn't sprint as hard as we could, and we didn't match up as quickly as we needed to.”

Like so many things in sports, the Blue Devil defense is a mental game. Northwestern does not have a particularly lofty roster—its tallest player is 6-foot-5 freshman forward Lauren Trumpy—so physical disadvantage is no excuse for Duke. Lawson’s team will simply have to give the Wildcats its all.


Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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