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A Little Trouble In Paradise

Duke went to the Virgin Islands for a working vacation, and got a lesson
in the responsibilities that being #1 bears. The last game (against
Arkansas) was Duke's fifth game in nine days and third game in a row. Two
of Duke's games came against ranked teams, while Old Dominion was ranked
until their opening-game loss to Virginia. Duke scheduled so many tough
games before December came around to probe for weaknesses and to see who
would step up. The loss of Monique Currie made the challenge even
greater. I unfortunately did not get to see these games, but I did listen
to them and there are a few things to look at here.

Against Hampton, Duke was incredibly inpatient. Everyone wanted to
score and took too many quick shots. Shooting just 43% for the game
against a team as undersized as the Pirates was not a good showing. In my
schedule analysis, I wrote of Hampton: "This is a game that Duke should
win, but the Devils should expect a tough defense and must watch the
ball." Well, Hampton did play tough defense and the Devils turned it over
18 times. One thing Duke did do here is play great defense themselves,
forcing 31 turnovers and holding Hampton to 23% from the field. Their
leading scorer, LaShondra Dixon, was just 5-16 from the floor. The game
was very rough and Duke put Hampton on the foul line 20 times.
Matyasovsky, Bass and Krapohl all fouled out against a much smaller team.
Offensively, the only consistent players were Alana Beard (15 points on
7-12 shooting) and Iciss Tillis (14 points on 6-11 shooting). Duke still
won going away and was never threatened, but they didn't do a good job by
their own standards.

Old Dominion was certainly a tougher matchup. They lost narrowly to
Arkansas and the aforementioned Hoos, but were in the process of replacing
4 of their best 6 players. They went back and forth with Duke, falling
behind early and then coming back to take a small lead, only to fall
behind by double figures again. They outshot Duke (40 to 37%) and
outrebounded them 39-34. Guards Okeisha Howard (16 points on 5-11
shooting) and Shareese Grant (10 points) as well as forward Monique Coker
(12 points, 13 rebounds) gave Duke trouble, though the Lady Monarchs
couldn't muster much firepower beyond these veterans. The Devils had two
things going for them: they were able to get to the foul line (20-31) and
they forced 28 turnovers, scoring 33 points from them. Once again, it was
the Beard (28 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 9-15 from the floor) and
Tillis (14 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals) show, scoring 2/3 of Duke's
points. The rest of the team was 7-27 from the floor. ODU simply
couldn't stop Beard, and that made the difference. Still, one wondered
when Duke's other players were going to step up. Mistie Bass was a
candidate, having 7 ppg in the first two games. Wynter Whitley was
scoring about 5 ppg.

Someone would have to do it, because Arkansas was poised for an upset.
Coach Gary Blair returned his three top scorers: forward Shameka Christon
and guards India Lewis & Dana Cherry. Blair's team is very athletic and
had some tough players to throw at Duke inside. They are also extremely
deep; in addition to the starting five, there were 5 players who got 7 or
more minutes of playing time. The Ladybacks started with four guards and
Christon to match up against Duke's three guards and two versatile
forwards, and it worked well. Duke had trouble handling Christon, who had
19 points and 11 rebounds. Lewis was only 3-14 from the field, matching
Iciss Tillis' struggling with 5-17. Cherry, a slashing guard, hurt Duke
with 14 points and 5 rebounds while frosh guard Rochelle Vaughn outplayed
counterpart Lindsey Harding with 11 points, 1 assist and 2 steals to
Harding's 0 points (0-5 shooting), 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals.

Arkansas actually led 31-29 at the half, Duke's first halftime deficit
of the year. Matyasovsky came out with some big buckets early in the
half, but the big key off the bench for Duke was Mistie Bass. She scored
13 points and grabbed 4 boards. That included the shot that sent the game
into overtime. Mistie's a big-game player and she showed it here. Duke
thinned its bench a bit for this game, going with 8 players for most of
the time. Jess Foley only played 2 minutes, while Brooke Smith did not
play at all. Of course, I haven't mentioned Alana Beard, who had 27
points on 9-17 shooting, hit 4 three pointers, grabbed 8 rebounds and
dished 3 assists. While she missed late free throws in regulation that
could have won the game, she did hit 2 pressure-packed freebies with 1
second left that settled the issue.

Right now, Alana is averaging 22.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, 4 spg and is
shooting 55% from the field. Beard is also averaging 39% from three,
helped by her 4-6 performance against Arkansas. (I'm guessing that Blair
was conceding her the three and picked a bad day to do it.) Beard's
turnovers are down to about 2 per game. Alana is surpassing or equalling
all of her career numbers with one exception: foul shooting. Her 64% this
year is considerably below her career average of 77%. Hitting those two
shots at the end of overtime could be a big boost for her confidence.
Beard has gone to the line twice as much as any of her other teammates,
and this number will only continue to climb as she's up against outmatched
opponents. If they sense that this is a weakness, "hack-Alana" could be
used more this year. In terms of her overall numbers, Alana is now Duke's
7th all-time leading scorer, having surpassed Payton Black & Tye Hall this
past weekend. She erased Katie Meier's all-time steal record of 232 and
is now at 240. Alana also entered the top ten in free throws made,
bumping Kira Orr out of the tenth spot. For Alana, however, it's all
about wins, and the biggest stat so far is 5 wins, no losses. She's the
clear leader for conference and national player of the year based on her
play and the team's results. She will need a lot more help if the team
wishes to reach its goals.

Iciss Tillis has done a very solid job so far, scoring 13.6 ppg and
grabbing 6 rpb. This is below her numbers last year, however, where she
got 14 and 8. Iciss is also shooting just 42% from the field and 35%
from three. Admittedly, she's gone up against tough competition, but I'd
like to see her get more free throw attempts (just 6 in five games!) and
block more shots. Iciss is third in steals at around 2 per game.
Essentially, she's playing well but has a lot of room to improve. She's
getting plenty of shots (only 7 fewer attempts than Beard) but just needs
to hit them. Back-to-back double-doubles in the Paradise Jam are an
extremely encouraging sign that she's truly ready to step up.

The seniors Mosch & Matyasovsky have been up and down. Mattie's scoring
6 ppg while Sheana's only putting up 5.8. That's about normal for
Michele but way below average for Sheana. Michele is only shooting 41% on
the season (and is 1-9 from three), but is putting up strong numbers
elsewhere: 4.8 rpg (a career high), 1.4 apg (ditto), nearly 2 spg (ditto
again) and has only turned the ball over twice in 105 minutes of play.
These are the kind of numbers I expected from Mattie--good, solid support
play. Sheana has the green light to shoot, especially in Currie's
absence, but the shots just aren't falling. She's just 33% from the field
(and 2-5 from three). I do like that she's averaging a career-high 4
rebounds a game and is dishing out nearly 2 assists per game. Mosch needs
to keep taking good shots; the rest will come. Of some concern is her
5-10 performance from the foul line; Mosch is an 81% career foul shooter.

Wynter Whitley has had a decent start. She's scoring 6.2 ppg on 44%
shooting but has missed all 6 of her three point attempts. Wynter is just
9-20 from the foul line, which is disturbing because she will be spending
a lot of time there. She's averaging about 4.2 rpg but is turning the
ball over nearly twice a game--a bit much for someone who's not a primary
ballhandler. Like many of her teammates, she's done some good things but
could improve on everything across the board. Vicki Krapohl is playing
pretty much exactly like she did last year She's averaging 4.2 ppg--just
like last year. She's shooting 50% from three and is averaging 2.2
assists per game. Her turnovers are a bit up (nearly 2 a game) but she's
steady as she goes otherwise.

Of the frosh, Mistie Bass & Lindsey Harding have clearly made the
biggest impact. Mistie is shooting an incredible 69.6% from the field and
is 75% from the field line (15-20). She fears no one and is very
efficient inside. Her biggest negative at this point is her lack of
productivity on the boards. With her hands and size, she should be
getting more than 2.2 rpg. Mistie could also be more of a
difference-maker on the defensive end. Harding is only shooting 21% from
the field and hasn't made a single three, but is averaging 3.6 apg, 4.6
rpg, and over 2 spg. Also impressive is her 10-10 mark from the foul
line. Along with Beard & Tillis, she's one of Duke's most fearsome
defenders. When her offense catches up with her defense, it'll be even
harder to keep her out of the lineup.

Jess Foley and Brooke Smith have also done some good things. Brooke
didn't play against Arkansas but has averaged 4.3 ppg and 3.5 rpg in just
14 mpg. Foley has played well in spots and is 39% from three and averages
3.4 ppg and 2.2 apg. She will continue to get more playing time as the
season progresses.

As a team, Duke is shooting 44.6% from the field, an ugly 31.8% from
three and a wretched 65.5% from the foul line. Compare that to 49%, 38%
and 76% on last year's team. Duke is outrebounding their opponents by 6.4
boards per game, which is similar to last year. Duks is averaging 14.6
turnovers a game, which is actually under the team's goal of 15. They are
forcing 26 turnovers against the opposition, which has led to lots of easy
baskets. Duke's defense has been solid and they're taking care of the
ball. They simply need to take better shots and convert at the foul line.
Their next game is this Friday against Howard, another scrappy MEAC team.
Their next big-time opponent is FIU, who come to Cameron on the 18th.
Overall, Duke has found ways to win against several good teams when their
shot wasn't falling.