Last season, head coach Kara Lawson ran a run-and-gun type of offense, having the Blue Devils full-court press for much of the game to earn points in transition. Duke’s exhibition opener against Wingate displayed the same intensity that Lawson utilized last season, despite the Blue Devils having only 10 healthy players on their roster.
Duke dominated the matchup, ultimately winning 106-33, and the Blue Devils never took their foot off the gas. All the way into the fourth quarter, Duke’s energetic backcourt swarmed the Bulldogs’ press break. Often, Wingate would have no choice but to “Hail Mary” the basketball across the court, hoping a teammate would be there to collect the pass. The Blue Devils left no breathing room when they were on defense, and guards Reigan Richardson and Taina Mair each finished with three steals.
The exhibition match also displayed the electric playstyle of 6-foot freshman Jadyn Donovan, who came into this season ranked third in her graduating class. Donovan’s athleticism and defensive intensity proved effective in Lawson’s gameplan. The Washington native showed off alley-oop layups and acrobatic assists in her first game as a Blue Devil. In addition, Donovan picked up a steal for Duke with countless points in transition. The freshman star ultimately ended the game as the leading scorer for the Blue Devils, finishing with 20 points.
Duke’s aggressive game plan appeared to be moving swimmingly through the first two quarters as the Blue Devils were leading by 40 points at halftime. Following halftime, though, signs of fatigue stuck out as a point of concern for Duke. Whether it be Oluchi Okananwa stumbling and falling as she attempted to make her way back to defense in the third quarter or fouls from trailing Duke defenders, the Blue Devils may have shown that their transition-heavy playstyle isn’t sustainable in the long term.
After all, all 10 women on Duke’s roster played over 10 minutes in the game, with each player scoring. If the Blue Devils were up against a tougher opponent, Lawson may have run out of fresh legs towards the beginning of the second quarter.
With an already injured Vanessa de Jesus sitting on the Duke sideline, the health of Lawson’s team will clearly play an important role in the Blue Devils’ success throughout the season. Watching Duke’s game against Wingate, you could almost feel Cameron Indoor Stadium hold its breath after a violent fall from any player, soon to be followed by a hundred sighs of relief once she returned to her feet. The Blue Devils barely showcased a sufficient amount of stamina as it is; shrinking the roster to a single digit could be detrimental.
Despite Duke’s conditioning being far from midseason form, the Blue Devils looked good against their Division II visitors. Richardson was draining threes in transition and there seemed to not be a single defender on the Bulldog roster who could keep up with Donovan. Wingate was too small for Duke’s towering duo of Kennedy Brown and Camilla Emsbo and too slow for Mair and Okananwa. Obviously, an exhibition scrimmage may not be an accurate gauge for what the Blue Devils will look like against their ACC opponents, but Duke’s domination highlighted its strengths and presented areas of success that the team could use to its advantage down the road.
If Duke can eventually develop its stamina to the point where its fast-paced style can be maintained through 40 minutes, the Blue Devils may be able to cause some real problems for unsuspecting opponents. It’s certainly uncomfortable and frustrating for any team when it can’t make a single pass without the Duke press swarming the ball carrier and suffocating any passing options to make it across the midcourt line. Any opponent who walks into Cameron Indoor without having perfected the full-court press break could be devoured alive, leaving the Blue Devil guards with easy points in transition.
On the other hand, Duke will inevitably face confident opponents who are unphased by Lawson’s defensive machine. Any opponent who can smoothly traverse the Blue Devil press may be able to run up points on Duke, especially if the Blue Devils never develop the stamina required to maintain such a physically demanding playstyle.
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