After Duke women's basketball competed at the USA Basketball 3X National tournament, the Blue Zone is here to recap the action:
Despite being in the off-season, a subset of Duke women's basketball has been competing against college teams from around the country. The Blue Devils played in the USA Basketball 3X Nationals Tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado, bringing a lineup of rising seniors Kennedy Brown and Vanessa de Jesus, along with rising sophomore Ashlon Jackson and rising junior Reigan Richardson.
Despite not having the full starting group together at Reid Arena on Colorado State's campus, Duke put together an excellent performance. The team won two out of three games in pool play, riding that momentum into a run through elimination play before dropping to Creighton in the finals.
The Blue Devils opened the tournament strong, coming out with a blowout 21-8 win against Indiana in their first game of the tournament. Duke faltered in its second game, dropping a close one to Seton Hall in a 21-18 defeat. From that point on, the Blue Devils would not lose a game until the finals. They beat Middle Tennessee State in the final game of the pool stage, putting them into place for the elimination rounds.
In the quarterfinals, Duke came out on top of a game that looked tight down the stretch, beating Gonzaga 20-16 to advance to the round of four. The Blue Devils’ semifinal game came down to the wire. With less than three minutes left, Duke held a narrow 20-19 lead. The two teams exchanged possessions several times, with neither able to score. Finally, with just 39 seconds left on the clock, Richardson managed to drop in a putback layup to secure Duke’s trip to the finals.
The Blue Devils ultimately fell short in the final game, losing 21-17 to the Blue Jays. Creighton was led by guard Morgan Maly, who was named the tournament’s Women’s MVP. Despite the loss, the finals run was an example of Duke’s ability to play with some of the stronger squads in the country, as teams like Utah, UCLA and the Hoosiers made appearances.
While we did not get to see the entire likely starting lineup for Duke come winter, the Blue Devils showcased some key pieces in the tournament. Brown was a starter all of last season, and will look to return to her role as a senior. Richardson also saw starting minutes at the small forward spot last year, and will likely be moving to the shooting guard spot this season.
Jackson’s slot in the lineup going forward is still a little murky, as it depends on the talents of the incoming freshman class. That being said, she made an excellent case for herself in the 3-on-3 competition. She was the second-leading scorer in the women’s tournament, putting up 43 total points. Jackson came into the program touted as a three-point shooter, but shot a mediocre 31.3% from behind the arc in her first college season. Now, with what appears to be an improved stroke heading into her sophomore campaign, she could make an impact as a more consistent catch-and-shoot option and help reinforce a Duke offense that struggled last season.
De Jesus will likely play the same role this year that she did last. She will be a solid backup point guard option, as Boston College transfer Taina Mair fills the starting spot. De Jesus is a reliable floor general and playmaker, and more importantly, is able to hold her own on defense. She will be a key piece for a Blue Devils squad looking to improve on a disappointing second round NCAA tournament exit last year.
We should do our best not to overanalyze the 3-on-3 performance. It was a solid showing from a relatively representative sample of Duke’s capabilities. The Blue Devils played well, beat some good teams and kept all their games close. While there are not any groundbreaking takeaways from the tournament, Jackson’s growth as a shooter was evident. Brown and Richardson proved that they are very much up for the challenge of starting for Duke, and de Jesus showed her worth as a key rotation piece.
This was a good weekend for the four Blue Devils who made appearances, as they take the offseason to hone their skills before beginning practices for the 2023-24 season.
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