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6 | THURSDAY, MARCH 4, 2010

THE CHRONICLE | 7

A YEAR IN REVIEW DUKE 83 - OSU 67 December 3rd, 2009 A huge game from guard Jasmine Thomas—she scored 29 points and went 10-of-20 from the field— gave the Blue Devils an exciting win over then-No. 3 Ohio State at home. Buckeye forward Jantel Lavender put up a monster 20 points and 18 rebounds and played all 40 minutes in the losing effort.

Against the best, Thomas’s performance key for Duke by Vignesh Nathan THE CHRONICLE

by Sabreena Merchant THE CHRONICLE

As the season wears on, tired legs lead to missed jumpers and the game slows down, it’s useful to have a strong inside presence to turn to on offense. A year ago, the Blue Devils leaned on Chante Black as their back-to-the basket scorer. Black—the team’s leader in points—was usually able to overpower her defender given good position in the post. Unfortunately for Duke, this offensive set was highly predictable and easy to adjust to, causing the Blue Devils’ scoring to stagnate late in games. A quick look at Duke’s season-ending loss to Michigan State, in which the Blue Devils failed to score from the field in the final seven-and-ahalf-minutes, is proof enough. Nevertheless, the concept of an insideout offense wasn’t the problem. It was merely the execution that failed. Which is why a year later, Duke is still determined to work the ball inside, but with a different set of personnel, and, it hopes, better results. “We’re going to play the ball inside and out, and attack the paint and be aggressive, because we want to get to the paint and we want to get to the free-throw line, and we want that as a mainstay in things we do,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. The Blue Devils no longer have a power center capable of dominating the game on the offensive end. Instead, the team has a bevy of post players, each with a different skill set, lending diversity—and sometimes inconsistency—to the inside attack. Junior center Krystal Thomas has assumed Black’s position in the starting lineup, but has functioned mainly in a defensive capacity. At 6-foot-4, Thomas is a force on the boards and can alter shots, leading the team with 7.1 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. Meanwhile, freshman Allison Vernerey has provided the perfect offensive complement to Thomas. Vernerey has a thinner frame, but her smooth stroke makes her a double-digit threat on any given night, and the freshman has hit that mark nine times this season. In the team’s Feb. 26 contest against then-No. 18 Virginia, Vernerey put up 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting while Thomas led Duke with nine rebounds and two blocks, demonstrating the Blue Devils’ options at center. “It’s worked in our offense as far as bringing different looks into the post,” ju-

UCONN 81 - DUKE 48 January 18, 2010 Five Huskies score in double figures in front of a sellout crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium as No. 1 UConn steamrolls Duke on its way to an undefeated regular season. The Blue Devils trailed by 10 at halftime and cut that lead to eight early in the second period, but hot Huskie shooting widened the margin of victory to more than 30

DUKE 83 - UVA 65 February 26, 2010 The Blue Devils come out of the locker room at halftime fired up and turn a slim two-point lead at the break into an 18-point blowout against the Cavaliers to earn at least a share of the ACC title. This was a balanced offensive game for Duke, as six players scored at least eight points. But two days later, the Blue Devils get beat by a mediocre North Carolina squad in Chapel Hill, forcing Duke to share the top spot in the conference with Florida State

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This season has already included a series of joyous occasions for Duke, and the Blue Devils hope to celebrate an ACC Tournament title in Greensboro this weekend.

The Blue Devils no longer have a power center capable of dominating the game. Instead, the team has a bevy of post players, each with a different skill set, lending diversity—and sometimes inconsistency—to the inside attack. nior guard Jasmine Thomas said. “Allison’s a finesse player [and] she finishes well at the basket. [Krystal Thomas] is a power down in the post.... It puts a lot of versatility down there in the post and it helps us because we can just rotate them in.” The most noteworthy aspect of Duke’s offense this year has been the frequency of post-ups from the forwards. Senior Joy Cheek worked with Black in the paint last year as a power forward, but has often played on the perimeter this season, utilizing her range and height to shoot over smaller defenders. That leaves room inside for the small forwards, namely Bridgette Mitchell and Karima Christmas, to operate. Christmas, in particular, has been a force at the three despite coming off the bench for the majority of the season. Her combination of size and athleticism is a nightmare for defenders down low, and the result has been a jump in the junior’s scoring average to 9.5 points per game. Like many of her teammates, Christmas is capable of exploding offensively, most recently against Maryland Feb. 21 when she put up 25 points on just 13 shots. “It’s just that [Bridgette and I]

are versatile players,” Christmas said. “We have height to play in the post and quickness to play in the post. Either way, we can play outside or inside. It’s helping the team out a lot.” The Blue Devils’ multi-faceted, and nearly unpredictable, post attack has posed a significant defensive challenge for opposing teams. Duke doesn’t have one player down low to focus on, and Christmas and Mitchell are mismatches for smaller wings. “It makes it extremely hard [to defend] because when you have two players like Karima and [Bridgette] playing in the post, they can take the larger and slower posts outside and go around them,” Cheek said. “Their quickness is what helps. It helps our defense, too, because their speed allows them to get deflections.” No matter how each player is contributing, the very fact that so many Blue Devils have the ability to make a difference on the offensive end has made this year’s squad more effective. Chante Black doesn’t play in Cameron Indoor Stadium anymore, but the post players Duke does have should give the team a fighting chance in the coming weeks.

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When it comes to who the best player on Duke’s squad is, there’s not a question about it—it’s Jasmine Thomas. Thomas leads the Blue Devils in points, assists and steals, and she became the 26th player in Duke history to score 1,000 points, as a junior, earlier this year. Last week, she was named as one of 30 candidates for the Naismith Player of the Year award. The list goes on and on, but there is one question that is much more pertinent to Blue Devil fans—can

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Duke win without her? Although Thomas may be the most consistent offensive contributor on the team, she is by no means the only. Duke’s team consists of a plethora of experienced players who have the potential to dominate offensively. Seniors Joy Cheek and Bridgette Mitchell are both capable of having career games on any given night, while junior Karima Christmas and freshman Allison Vernerey are known to put up impressive figures. And given Thomas’s sometimes inconsistent shooting this season, these are the players that have contributed significantly to the continued success of this year’s team. For example, take the Feb. 8 game against rival North Carolina. Thomas could not generate any momentum on the court, shooting a measly 20 percent, and going 0-for-5 from 3-point range. Still, Duke pulled away for the victory and put up the most balanced scoresheet of its season, with six players scoring in double-digits, including sophomore Shay Selby, who is coming back into form after knee surgery last summer. “We have different people in different spots. You saw [Christmas] step up, you’ve seen [Cheek] step up as well,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “[Jasmine Thomas] has been steady for us. Other people have stepped up for us as well. [Krystal Thomas] has had big games. [Vernerey] had big games. It’s just a matter of getting us all to fire off all cylinders at the same time.” But that’s precisely the problem. When these Blue Devils have faced off against the nation’s toughest talent, they haven’t been able to all step up at once. Rather, they seem to rely on their point guard’s assertiveness to either notch a win, or suffer a loss. A great example was Duke’s early victory against then-No. 3 Ohio State—the Blue Devils’ first quality win of the season. Thomas had a career night, scoring 29 points on a wonderful shooting performance. The rest of

the starters? They combined for fewer points than Duke’s lone star. When Duke traveled to California to take on No. 2 Stanford two weeks laer, the Blue Devils’ box score could not have been more lopsided. Thomas and Christmas combined for 30 points, more than the other eight members of Duke’s team combined. And Thomas scored her 14 points on 4-of-17 shooting, not good enough to beat a potential top seed like the Cardinal. Where were the rest of the Blue Devils? Mitchell, traditionally a reliable scorer, remained scoreless on an 0-for-4 performance from the field. Fellow seniors Jackson and Cheek were not much more impressive. The final test came against No. 1 Connecticut in January. And though Thomas scored 17 and looked impressive in doing so, none of her teammates scored in double digits, and her own scoring didn’t come close to closing the gap against the Huskies. The fact remains that many Blue Devils have not been consistent scoring threats. On the season, only two Blue Devils average double-digit points—barely (Joy Cheek is averaging 10.0 points per game). In contrast, seven of the other nine teams in the top 10 have at least three double-digit scorers, and a few even have four. For McCallie, the focus of the next few weeks will be on developing different scoring options so that the Blue Devils don’t rely so heavily on one player. “That’s the power of team. That’s the power of everyone,” McCallie said after the Blue Devils’ victory against North Carolina. “Everybody on this team can offer something.” These words may be true enough to send the Blue Devils to San Antonio. But based on the evidence, if the Blue Devils continue their sloppy play against other national title contenders, only Jasmine Thomas can determine whether Duke brings home a national championship. If she fails, so does Duke. Blue Devil fans can only hope she doesn’t.


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