THURSDAY, MARCH 4, 2010 | 3
Blue Devils hope for revenge in tourneys by Patricia Lee THE CHRONICLE
No. 9 Duke enters the upcoming ACC and NCAA Tournaments secure in its place as regular season champion and confident on what its growth will allow it to accomplish, although the team has to overcome a series of setbacks to challenge the nation’s best. The Blue Devils (24-5, 12-2 in ACC) have advanced tremendously as a team this year. Elevating its level of play against difficult teams like Ohio State and Florida State, Duke has built itself into a more dominant defensive team and a threat offensively. But against elites like Connecticut and Stanford, the Blue Devils have come up well short. Still, head coach Joanne P. McCallie is impressed with her team’s development since the beginning of the season. “We are growing and have become more mature,” McCallie said. “From a team standpoint, we’re playing more aggressively and being smart, and everyone’s been a part of that. We’ve just had good, strong, aggressive, tough play by everyone defensively, fairly consistent rebounding, excellent leadership from everybody and the juniors and seniors together have formed a bond of understanding of what it takes to compete at this level.” Going in as the favorites to win the ACC Tournament this year, the Blue Devils are looking to focus on improving against teams they performed poorly against earlier in the season. Specifically, Duke had a disappointing loss against Boston College in early February in which junior guard Jasmine Thomas was the only scorer to get in double digits, and another gainst North Carolina to end the season. The offensive rhythm the team
has settled into later on in the year—with powerhouses Thomas and Joy Cheek both averaging more than 10 points per game and Karima Christmas not far behind with 9.5—will prove essential come the quick turnaround in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments. “We’ve been practicing hard, and we’re looking forward to great competition, which is what the ACC brings,” senior forward Bridgette Mitchell said. “We always do a postgame scout report, so we’ll be ready to receive teams and more effectively counter their strong points.” Throughout regular season play, Thomas has been proud of the juniors’ and seniors’ strong presence on the court and in the locker room. “The seniors have definitely been big with emotion and have definitely been playing like it’s their last year,” Thomas said. “Their leadership on the floor is important, and if we need something big on the floor, we know that we can always look to them.” And though Duke has accomplished its goal of earning the regular season championship— although the Blue Devils split it with Florida State on the last day of the season—there are still elements that Duke needs to work on to attain a higher level of play that McCallie stresses. The coach often uses the metaphor of a series of games as a row of dominoes to be knocked down regardless of what teams the Blue Devils are playing. “We have a defensive intensity and the ability to really clamp down on opponents,” McCallie said. “But we need to continue dominating rebounding and our passing needs to improve tremendously in terms of the quickness of ball movement and throwing it harder. You’ve got to look the
MICHAEL NACLERIO/CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO
Duke hopes to celebrate this weekend and in the NCAA Tournament, just as it did against North Carolina three weeks ago. other team in the eye, and I’d love to see UConn again, but you can’t predict it. It’s NCAA basketball, and it’s amazing and unpredictable, but you can up your chances by bringing a mature team to the battle.”
And with their last game—a 6454 loss against the Tar Heels Sunday—behind them, the Blue Devils are preparing for more competitive ACC play and are confident they will be a foreboding presence at the NCAA Tournament.
“Hopefully you’ll go into it with the mindset that you’ll go as far as you can and that in every game you can’t save anything,” Thomas said. “As far as the ACC and NCAA, you have to face every opponent like it’s your last game.”
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