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Duke Wakes Up, Slaps Around Jackets

Duke 82, Georgia Tech 59. January 17, 2005. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Some scamp replaced Duke's coffee with decaf before their game with
Georgia Tech, and they almost slept through a very important lesson.
Thankfully, they had an alert instructor in Gail Goestenkors who was more
than happy to shout "Wakey wakey!" (or words to that effect) during an
early timeout. The team gulped down some double espressos in the second
half and taught the young but feisty Jackets a few lessons in mental
toughness. The game featured some of the more remarkable runs from both
teams that I've seen in quite some time. Georgia Tech had an early 17-2
run that gave them a shocking 23-8 lead, but Duke returned the favor with
a 19-0 run in the second half after they held a tenuous 4 point lead.
Duke rallied from being down 45-35 two minutes into the half to going up
78-55 with four minutes to go--a 43-10 run!

Tech is a very young team known for its defense, small lineup, and
difficulties with shooting. That was especially true of talented young
point guard Jill Ingram, who came in averaging under 20% from the three
point line. However, having the opportunity to play Duke fired her up,
and she certainly scorched the Blue Devils. Having grown up in Charlotte,
she had dreamed of competing against Duke, which still sounds a bit odd to
my ears. A decade ago, Duke was just making its second NCAA tournament.
But for an 18-year-old, the 1999 team was probably a vivid early
basketball memory, and Alana Beard's legacy certainly had to make an
impression. Regardless, Ingram was ready to play.

Tech went with Ingram, a sweet-shooting frosh from Sweden named Chioma
Nnamaka, highly-improved wing Stephanie Higgs and workmanlike forwards
Jessica Williams and Kentrina Wilson. Duke's game plan was to shadow
Higgs, the team's leading scorer, and let Ingram shoot the three. Nnamaka
also had to be shadowed at all times because of her deadly shooting
stroke. Tech's game plan was to use a 2-1-2 press to slow Duke down, then
pack down into a sagging 2-3 zone that frequently saw four players in the
box. The strategy was to cut off Monique Currie & Wanisha Smith's
penetration and prevent easy entry passes to Duke's post players. The
plan worked brilliantly in the early going for Tech.

Currie turned the ball over on Duke's first possession when she
carelessl fired a pass at where a player was before she cut. Higgs drove,
drew the defense and fired a pass to Ingram, who nailed a three. Tech put
on their trap, and Smith promptly threw it at Jessica Foley, who had her
head turned. Ingram picked it off and hit a wide-open Nnamaka for another
three. An irate Coach G called a timeout and promptly got in the faces of
Foley and Currie for the duration of a 30-second break. The choice of
those two players was not accidental: both made early mistakes, but Coach
G also knows that the veterans could take one of her rants in a way that
Wanisha Smith might not be able to.

Currie rebounded a Mistie Williams miss and Smith followed that up with
a three on a Foley feed to cut the lead to 6-5. Things seemed to be
getting back to normal...except that Ingram had no interest in normal.
She pulled up and sank a three, and then nailed another three on a pass
from the post. Williams missed again but Smith had a chance at a three,
which she missed. Nnamaka nailed another three on a pass from the post to
put Tech up 15-5. Tech continued to make some incredible shots, like a
hanging floater by Higgs with one second left on the shot clock. Duke
stopped some of the bleeding with a three by Foley, but Tech turned around
and scored 4 in a row to go up 23-8 with twelve minutes to go in the half.

Tech's zone was giving Duke all sorts of open shots from the perimeter,
but the Devils had some trouble at first getting the best shots. They
finally started to work the ball around, and Smith hit a three on a Kurz
pass to cut it to 23-11. Duke then turned up its defensive pressure and
forced some misses, with one leading to a fast break that currie finished.
The Devils then forced a shotclock violation, with Wanisha Smith blocking
a shot to help create the turnover. Williams then missed another shot,
but got her only rebound of the game and fired it out to Foley, who sank
her second three of the game. Duke forced a miss inside, but Wynter
Whitley badly missed a three and Williams managed to score inside.

Duke then ran off a 6-0 mini-run to creep closer. Currie tore down the
court like a madwoman on one play, attacking the basket before Tech could
set up their defense. She missed the layup, but got her own rebound for a
three point play. Bales then blocked 2 shots and Smith tapped the ball
out to Currie, who was off-balance near the sideline. She somehow kept
her balance by throwing a wrap-around pass to herself and went
full-throttle down the court, dishing to Foley. Foley missed the layup,
but Currie grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Mo had turned her game up
to 11 after Tech's guards started talking smack to her: she didn't get
mad, she got even. The 2 freebies made it 27-22 with under five minutes
to go in the half.

Ingram drove in and scored to make the lead 7, but Bales tipped in a
Williams miss and was fouled. Currie forced a turnover from Higgs and
laid it in, making it 29-27. It felt that all Duke needed to do was take
a lead, and Tech would fold. Ingram grabbed a miss and hit a short
jumper, and Currie missed 2 straight shots. Tech scored again to go up by
6 with under three minutes to go in the half. Duke swung the ball around
and Currie hit Foley for her third triple of the half. Duke forced a miss
but Whitley missed 2 jumpers and Kurz rushed a three. Ingram then banked
in a ridiculous 27' shot with the shot clock running down and a hand in
her face to give the Jackets a 36-30 lead. Smith tried driving to the
hoop, but she didn't go hard enough and missed badly. Duke had squandered
some momentum and the Jackets were hanging on. Tech hit 8 of its first 11
shots, with 5 of them being treys. The Jackets had a 13-2 edge in points
off turnovers, but Duke fought back with a 13-5 advantage in second-chance
points. Currie and Foley had 20 of Duke's 30 points and 9 of Duke's 18
rebounds--it was clear that they'd need more help in the second half.

Duke pulled within 3 quickly when Bales tapped out a Currie miss to
Foley for a trey. But Nnamaka hit 3 straight threes in the corner, a
couple over Bales' outstretched arms, to push Tech's lead to 45-35. Once
again, it seemed like they couldn't miss. Currie scored on a driving spin
to the basket, a spectacular move. Duke swarmed Tech inside and forced a
turnover, and then Currie grabbed her own miss and passed it to Bales for
a stickback. Ingram scored her last basket of the game to put Tech up
47-39, but Duke was ready to make a serious move.

Foley dished to Smith for a three, and Currie then fiercely boarded a
contested shot by Nnamaka. Mo then dished to the hot hand, and Nish
nailed another trey to make it 47-45. Foley rebounded another miss by
Nnamaka (who was 0-10 after hitting those first three shots of the half)
and Currie drove & was fouled. She could only hit 1, bringing Duke to
within 47-46. Wilson hit a shot inside, but Foley countered with trey #5
to tie it up at 49. Higgs was bailed out by getting fouled but crucially
missed both shots. Smith inbounded to Currie for a layup and Duke had its
first lead of the game at 51-49.

Tech tied it at 51, and then came a crucial play. Bales had the ball at
the top of the key, with everyone else covered. Rather than force a bad
pass inside, she simply squared up for the shot and buried a 19 footer.
Tech tied it again at 53, but Whitley passed out to the sizzling Foley for
another three. Jess nailed another three (a Duke-record tying seven!) to
put Duke up 59-54, but Tech chipped away to make it 59-55 with under nine
minutes left.

Foley rebounded a miss by Higgs, then stole the ball away from Ingram
after she had filched it from Smith. Jess threw it ahead to Nish, who
found Mo for a perfect 15' jumper. After Foley forced a miss from
Nnamaka, Currie got the board and threw it to Nish in transition for a
spectacular three point play. That started an avalanche of a run built
on defense and fast breaks. Currie threw an outlet pass to Kurz, who was
fouled going to the hoop. Bales then altered a shot and got the board,
and Mo was off to the races. She zoomed downcourt, and pulled up for a
17' jumper that swished. Kurz then blocked a three attempt from Nnamaka
and tapped it to Currie, who was off to the races for another layup.
After another Tech miss, Jess & Mo raced downcourt. Jess dished to Mo on
the wing, who unhesitatingly pulled up for a three that barely disturbed
the net. Mo was getting even, for sure.

Tech was flinging up bad threes, playing right into Duke's hands.
Currie got another rebound, and this time Foley stuck back a Bales miss.
When Kurz buried a three from Foley, Duke was up 78-55 with four minutes
left. Tech was absolutely dazed and Cameron was rocking. Higgs finally
hit a three to stop the bleeding of a 19-0 run, but it was far too late.
Whitley and Black scored late to finish things up. Foley, Smith and
Currie were amazing in the second half, scoring 40 of Duke's 52 points and
combining for 10 assists and 12 rebounds. Duke shot a jaw-dropping 65% in
the second half and held Tech to just 25%. That included 4-18 inside the
arc as Duke blocked 6 shots and Bales altered others. The Devils
outrebounded the Jackets by 10 in the second half and took care of the
ball, turning it over just 6 times.

This game will serve as a warm-up of sorts for Wake Forest. That's
another team that has a 3 or 4 guard offense, no post game and a lot to
prove. Under new coach Mike Petersen, the Deacs have been more than
competitive, taking Virginia to overtime before falling and beating Miami
on the road. Wake will try to do what Tech did: press and trap and try to
force turnovers (Tech's 18-6 margin in points off turnovers will give Wake
hope), play a lot of zone in the halfcourt, run whenever possible, and try
to get long rebounds. Wake is a much better shooting team that Tech, and
while they're not quite as good defensively, they have more weapons. Wake
has had a number of near-misses against Duke in recent years, and they're
hoping that a big home game will be their opportunity. Duke has to be a
lot more intense right away than against Tech, or they will get a loss.

** Negatives:

1. First half defense. Duke allowed way too much penetration, which
enabled Tech to spot up its shooters. Duke then did not close out on
shooters quickly enough. The Devils also failed to exploit their height
advantage across the board simply by not raising their hands on defense.
Duke corrected all three problems eventually, but it was a sobering
learning experience to see a team exploit every single one of your errors.

2. Carelessness. I'm not sure where Duke's focus was early on, but the
mistakes they made were baffling. Phantom passes, elementary mistakes
against a press, and forced shots were some of the lowlights. Duke's
attitude was extremely casual, possibly because of Duke's long win streak
over the Jackets, but that only made Tech hungrier.

3. Blocking out. Williams in particular was beaten time and again by
Tech's far less heralded frontcourt on the boards, with Jessica Williams
getting 3 offensive boards alone. It took Currie and Foley clamping down
on the boards for Duke to really go on their big run.

** Positives:

1. Mental toughness. Duke doesn't like to lose, especially in the ACC.
Everyone knew that Currie was going to step up her game and get tough, but
it was a pleasant surprise to see Foley do the same. Foley is a great
"next play" player, but seeing her go to the boards and nail crucial shots
was huge.

2. Transition play. Duke's fast break was the key in the second half.
With Tech starting to tighten up and miss some long shots, Duke took
advantage by ramming the ball down their throats, getting easy scores and
free throw attempts.

3. Alison Bales. She deserves her own category, because she
singlehandedly intimidated every Tech player from getting near the basket
in the second half. With Duke initiating a zone and Bales inhabiting the
back line, she used her agility and size to roam along the baseline and
erase shots at will and alter others.

Player-by-Player:

** Bales: I talked about Ali's defense above. Here's a couple of words
about her offense. It was exciting to see her use her size to get that
early stickback, a big basket in Duke's early comeback. In the second
half, the leaning bank shot she hit could well become a big part of her
repetoire. It's Tim Duncan's favorite shot and one that a player of her
size should be able to use on a regular basis near the basket, especially
since she lacks a regular go-to post move. Bales also hit the biggest
shot of the game, pulling up from 19' to put Duke ahead for good.
Considering that she had no plays run for her at all and couldn't set up
in a zone, she was the height of efficiency.

** Williams: This was one of Mistie's worst career games, and this came
off a less-than-stellar effort against Virginia. Duke's consistent
double-double queen has suddenly had trouble getting rebounds, not to
mention having trouble getting shots to fall. Tech's zone had a lot to do
with this, but she was totally neutralized on the boards, missed a few
blockouts, and even got scored on a couple of times. She did have a
couple of key passes for Foley threes, but was shockingly passive at
times. Hopefully she can come back and attack a guard-oriented Wake
Forest team.

** Currie: After her early miscues, Mo had a brilliant night, one of the
best of her career. I'm pretty sure she was angry with herself for her
early play, but Coach G's urgings certainly didn't hurt any. What was
different about this game was her absolute confidence in her jumper. Tech
played her for her jumper and I have a feeling that's what their guards
were talking smack to her about. Mo responded by sticking jumpers from
15', 17' and from three during Duke's huge run. She still did plenty of
the usual, scoring on a baseline drive, an acrobatic spin move, a twisting
inbounds layup, and several fast breaks. More impressive than that was
her suffocating defense on Ingram in the second half. While being careful
not to reach in, Mo bodied her all over the court and didn't give her any
open looks. If Mo continues to give this kind of effort on a game to game
basis, she will be a surefire national player of the year candidate.

** Foley: An awesome game by Jess, who wasn't afraid to take open shots
and nailed them from all over the court. More than that, it was her
defense on Nnamaka in the second half that was a big key in Duke's win.
It was great to see Jess put it all together in one game: defense,
rebounding, shooting and playmaking. The remarkable thing is that the
same shots that weren't going in most of the year suddenly started
dropping. Jess was perhaps a tad more open than in other games, but her
release didn't seem much different. More impressive than the shooting was
the rebounding. After being beaten defensively early in the game, she
worked her butt off. This was a game that was going to be won or lost by
the guards, and Jess made sure that Duke had the winning combo.

** Smith: While Nish had her problems on defense, getting torched
repeatedly by Ingram, she more than made up for it with her shooting and
penetration. From the first time I saw her play in an AAU tournament, it
was clear that her strength was attacking the basket, but it was her
long-range jumper that carried the day for her here. When Nish gets into
a rhythm and is given a bit of daylight, she is deadly. Smith also came
back to play much better defense in the second half, shutting down Higgs.
Her block to force a shot clock violation was also a huge play. Nish is
the team's most emotional player, and her enthusiasm really pumps life
into some of the team's more reserved players.

** Whitley: Wynter is usually a huge difference-maker, but she seemed to
get a bit down on herself in the first half after she missed some shots
and later made some passing errors. She did have a big pass to Foley for
a three in the second half and hit a late jumper, but she didn't quite
jump-start the team the way they needed.

** Kurz: Laura again rushed her shots, but she played excellent defense
overall. With the exception of one play where Ingram shot right over her,
Kurz kept her hands up and blocked several shots. She triggered the
exciting fast break that Currie finished with a block at the top of the
key, and snuffed out a good look by Megan Harpring with another block.
Kurz also forced a held ball and nailed her last jumper of the game.

** Black: Chante played limited minutes due to Tech playing a three and
often four guard lineup. She once again started slowly, missing a chance
for a block and letting a pass slide through her hands. In the second
half, she got serious, ruling the defensive boards in the final ten
minutes of the game, forcing a held ball, and scoring on a nifty pass from
Whitley. Chante will be needed soon against more conventional teams, and
just needs to continue to do what she does well: defend and rebound.