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Women's Basketball Review/Preview, Part I

Duke Women's Basketball: The Year in Review, 2004-2005

Practice has begun and the first exhibition game is coming up. Time to
take a long look at this year's squad and its many possibilities. This
year's report is organized as follows:

I. The Season In Review
II. Player-By-Player Evaluation: Seniors And Players Not Returning
III. Player-By-Player Evaluation: Players Returning
IV. A Look At The Class of 2008
V. Preliminary Season Preview

I. 2004-2005: The Season In Review.

2005 was a season of lowered expectations for Duke, yet one of surprising
achievements. The team won 30 games for the fifth year in a row. Duke made
its fourth straight Elite Eight. The Devils tied for first place in the ACC
and played for the championship for the sixth straight year, losing to UNC
after winning five straight league titles. Duke accomplished all of this
despite losing its greatest-ever player to graduation, along with two
other quite accomplished seniors. The team did this though its prized
freshman transferred away. Duke found success even after its starting
point guard was suspended for the year and a backup was lost to injury. A
lot of young players stepped up in exciting and unexpected ways, and the
result was a fun season that landed just short of being a remarkable one.

Coach G scheduled a brutal non-conference slate, one that made sure
these players would have a baptism by fire. The coach knew what she was
going to get from Monique Currie and Mistie Williams, but everyone else
was a mystery in terms of how productive they could be and how quickly
they'd get up to speed. Was Jess Foley going to be ready to take more
shots and handle the ball? Would Alison Bales be able to handle increased
minutes and become effective in the post? Would Wynter Whitley be able to
contribute much after two lost seasons? How ready were the talented frosh
to help right away? With the ACC expanding and its veteran teams getting
stronger, Duke was suddenly quite vulnerable. The Devils lost a lot of
size, speed and experience with the loss of five players, but the group
that was left wound up redefining what was expected of a Duke team.

Alana Beard's teams were always known for their pressure defense, but
the 2005 team did things differently. Instead of using intense ball
pressure to set up fast breaks, this group emphasized steadfast post play,
shot-blocking and controlling the boards. Five players averaged at least
4 rebounds a game, and three players were over 7 rpg. The team set a
record for rebounds and broke an NCAA single-season record with 267
rejections. Six different players had double digit totals in blocks, with
the frosh alone combining for 70. While there were not a lot of quick
players on the squad, this group was able to grind it out in the
halfcourt. That toughness allowed Duke to go 7-3 in close games (10
or fewer points deciding the outcome).

On offense, though the team didn't have a true point guard, they were
still quite willing to share the ball. Three different players had at
least 100 assists in 2005, and all but one averaged at least an assist per
game. Turnovers were a bit of a concern, but at 16.6 per game this wasn't
as bad as it could have been, given the circumstances. This was not a
vintage offensive team, being held to 60 or under points on six occasions.
Still, the team shot reasonably well from three (36%), averaged 76 ppg and
got to the line 20 times a game.

Duke kicked the year off with the news that Lindsey Harding was suspended for
an indefinite period of time for indeterminate reasons. "When's Lindsey coming
back?" was a common question that was answered in January: she'd be back in
2005-2006. The Devils started the season hosting the Preseason WNIT and drew
local rival Davidson in the first round. The Wildcats played harder than Duke
for much of the game, and it was clear that the Devils were a bit bewildered on
the floor without Harding. Duke led most of the game, but had trouble shaking
Davidson; the Devils were only up by 11 with five minutes to go. They took
control down the stretch and played much better against South Florida in the
second round. USF had some severe matchup problems with Duke and the Devils
took advantage. Even though USF used their quickness in the early going to
take a lead, Duke's interior defense eventually wore them down.

That led to a road matchup with Notre Dame. Chante Black hurt her ankle
against USF a couple of nights after she got stitches in her head when
she knocked noggins with Jess Foley, and so was unavailable against the
Irish. Duke couldn't stop Notre Dame in the second half and lost by 11
points as Monique Currie had some problems defending Notre Dame's star
player. No rest for the Devils, however--they had to play their fourth
game in a week against Penn State. The Nittany Lions were in complete
control in the second half before veterans Whitley and Williams took over,
and the team went to another level defensively. Duke dropped out of their
more passive zone and started to attack PSU, and the strategy worked.

The Devils had a week off and went to the Bahamas to play in the Junkanoo
Jam. They crushed Stephen F Austin in the first game and then controlled
Kansas State in the second. The Devils' frontline was dominant, scoring
48 of the team's 61 points. Duke travelled to Knoxville to face off
against Tennessee and became only the seventh visiting team to best the
Lady Vols in Thompson-Bolling arena. In what was a bruising battle, Mo
Currie was able to make the big plays down the stretch to beat the Lady
Vols and Duke survived a last-second three attempt.

The rest of December brought some easy tune-up games with Pacific and
Jacksonvile State along with some more intriguing match-ups. Duke crushed
perennial Big South power Liberty and 6-8 Katie Feenstra. The Devils'
frontline got Feenstra in early foul trouble and she was never a factor when
the game was still in doubt. Beating Tennessee gave the team a lot of
confidence, and so they were able to handle Purdue and Auburn on the road
without much difficulty. Duke's guards out-quicked Purdue's, while the front
court matched the Tigers' bigs.

After a tune-up against Holy Cross, Duke started the ACC season with an
easy win over Virginia Tech. Seven players scored 9 or more points against the
Hokies, who couldn't handle Duke's balance. The Devils then went on the road
and dominated Virginia after struggling in U-Hall the past two seasons. A
young Georgia Tech squad blew out to an early lead over Duke thanks to hot
three point shooting, but Currie and Foley teamed for 50 points to earn a
comfortable win. Duke's front line combined for 58 points and 27 rebounds
against a smallish Wake Forest squad, blowing out to an early lead and then
holding on in the second half. The only negative early in January was the
fact that Caitlin Howe was injured again and would miss the rest of the year.
Howe had dropped to the end of the rotation by this time, but she was
still providing some relief in minutes for the overworked guards.

At 4-0 in the ACC, Duke was ready to go the Dean Dome to face UNC. The Devils
had dominated the Heels in recent years, having only lost 1 game to their
archrivals since 1998. This particular UNC squad was built to defeat
Duke, however, and the fact that the Devils were missing some key
personnel only made things easier for the Heels. The addition of Erlana
Larkins to UNC's front line was the player they'd been looking for: a
tough, physical athletic forward with smarts and timing. She helped
neutralize Mistie Williams and kept her off the boards, while slipping in
for stickbacks and easy finishes. Stopping Duke's post game meant the
Heels could exploit their advantage in speed and quickness. Ball-hawking
Nikki Bell stepped in front of several passes in this game as the Heels
built up a big lead. Currie almost pulled it out by herself, but missed
a couple of free throws down the stretch.

The Devils had to turn around and play Maryland next. Currie was unstoppable
and had to be, because the rest of the team still had Carolina Fever. Only
Williams and Smith were able to offer much help to Mo, who hit the game-winning
shot. Duke finished off a grueling week with another tough win, this time
against NC State, the top defensive team in the ACC. With Williams and
State's Tiffany Stansbury playing to a standstill inside, it was up to Mo
to hit yet another game-winning shot. This time, Duke was behind after
allowing State a wide-open three to take the lead. But Currie not only
hit a long jumper, she was fouled in the process. Duke was 6-1 in the ACC
and still held first place, despite all challenges.

In sunny Miami, Duke took care of the 'canes despite a few rallies from the
home team. Currie got hurt in this game and was not at her best, but Foley and
Black helped carry the day. Against a strong FSU squad, Duke's size was able to
wear down FSU's speed as Duke forced enough turnovers to build a big lead and
hold it. The Devils then faced Maryland and a crowd of over 17000, but had
little difficulty controlling the boards or getting to the line as they
triumphed. This spoiled Brenda Frese's prediction that Duke was going
down that weekend. After thrashing Clemson and Georgia Tech, Duke won
easily against Miami in Cameron despite 26 points from Tamara James. That win
clinched a tie for first place with UNC, and the winner of the next game would
get the top seed in the ACC tournament.

The Heels once again controlled every matchup but Currie and hit some big
shots down the stretch to get that coveted top seed. Duke plowed through Wake
and Maryland to reach the ACC finals once again, but UNC shot over 50% from
three and Duke had no chance in the second half. Duke's frontcourt was utterly
shut down, with only Currie putting up much of a fight. Duke did get to stay in
the area for the NCAA tournament, but it meant driving down 15-501 and playing
in Chapel Hill.

Duke's defense was sufocating against Canisius as Williams and Currie both had
big days. Boston College was a much stiffer challenge, especially since
Foley was out with an injury. Duke plugged Whitley into the starting
lineup and she responded wonderfully. Bales had the best offensive game of her
career and Currie was her usual brilliant self. The team didn't make many
mistakes and outrebounded BC, but it was still a closer game than anyone

That sent Duke to Chattanooga and a date with Georgia. Dawg star frosh
forward Tasha Humphrey had given a silent verbal to Duke but later reneged; the
fact that her mother is an assistant coach at UGA may have had something to do
with that. Williams and Bales got her in early foul trouble and helped sweep
the boards clean. Duke's offensive rebounding advantage led to several
stickbacks in the second half. With Duke's offense otherwise struggling, those
baskets came at an opportune time for the Devils. In the regional finals,
Duke met their match in the LSU Tigers. Armed with 2 of the best players in
college basketball (Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles), LSU wore down Duke a
bit. While Williams was effective inside in terms of scoring, Currie was
forced to take the jumper and didn't look comfortable doing it. Augustus won
that match-up and led her team to the Final Four, while Currie had one of the
worst games of her career.

While it was disappointing to lose on the cusp of going to the Final Four,
this team went farther than anyone would have guessed. Several experts had
predicted that BC and Georgia were going to upset Duke. The Devils had a
legitimate shot at beating LSU, and it was ironic that Currie played so badly.
Without Mo, Duke would have lost five to ten more games. She was directly
responsible for hitting a number of game-winning jumpers and had to put the
offense on her back for several contests. Currie and the entire team were
pretty clearly exhausted by the end of the year. The shortened roster
took its toll and injuries certainly reduced the team's effectiveness.

Beyond the fact that Duke only used 8 players, another problem was an overall
lack of versatility. Coach G was used to having Beard and Tillis around;
either could play 3 or 4 different positions. Having that much versatility
could help cover up for a lack of depth. On this team, the only players with
that kind of versatility were Currie and Whitley. Foley and Smith were forced
on the job to play multiple positions, but it often wasn't easy. Kurz showed
the potential to move around on the court, but wasn't ready for physical play.
Coach G worked around this problem by anchoring the versatile players around the
posts. Even if Duke's bigs couldn't put up a huge number of points, they would
still be able to prevent opponents from scoring. There were many teams that
simply had no answer for Duke's size. Their posts got stuffed one-on-one, and
any attempts at penetration were sent back. This freed up Duke's guards on
defense, knowing that if someone beat them, the posts would be there to take
care of it. It also gave the guards an opportunity to really pressure shooters
and force opponents to take awkward jumpers. Even when Duke's offense wasn't
flowing smoothly, the defense would give them time to eventually put a run
together or manufacture points at the foul line.

This plan worked against all opponents except those with equally-matched front
lines, or uniquely skilled wings who were comfortable taking the jumper from
anywhere on the floor. Offensively, even if Duke's bigs weren't scoring, they
tried to go inside to open things up. When foes were able to shut this down,
Duke's offense often ground to a halt. Currie is a team player and was
reluctant to just take over, but there were times when she simply had her
teammates clear out for her so she could attack the basket one-on-one. Being
forced to create on her own so much was another thing that wore Currie down;
she really missed having an experienced point guard.

Happily, Monique didn't want the LSU game to be her last college basketball
memory, so she chose to come back for a fifth year. She knew that Duke would
be much deeper and pack a lot more offensive punch. Currie played
international basketball to keep in shape, while Alison Bales also tried out
for that same team but didn't make it. Most of the team stayed on campus
during the summer, constantly scrimmaging to stay in shape and continue to
become more comfortable together. This group was ready to go from being a team
with few expectations to one with the highest of expectations.

II. Player-By-Player Evaluation: Seniors and Players Not Returning

** Wynter Whitley 6-2 F Sr 5.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.5 spg

Season Recap: Wynter bounced back from a difficult year, both in terms of
basketball and her own life. As a junior, her injured foot was slow to heal.
At the same time, she was coming to grips with tragedy in her own life, and
lost the drive to play. Though she initially was going to be a student
assistant, Wynter really stepped back from the program altogether for a
semester. That time off proved to be a big difference-maker in her life, and
she was ready to come back to the team.

It's a good thing that she was, because her versatility proved to be key
throughout the season. With the graduation of Iciss Tillis and the defection
of Brittany Hunter, Duke suddenly became dangerously thin in the post.
Whitley's inside/outside game was the perfect antidote to Duke's now-thin
roster, since she was capable of playing virtually any position on the floor
(other than point guard). While she initially was used as a sub in the post,
by the end of the year she was asked to start at off guard! For a player who
had to play center as a frosh and became one of the team's best defenders, it's
no surprise that she was able to plug that hole. While her productivity was
always variable, Wynter often seemed to come up with big plays when they were
needed most.

Early on, that was demonstrated when Duke was playing Penn State in Cameron.
The Devils were down by double digits in the second half when Whitley took a
charge, hit a three, flew in for a stickback, and nailed a long jumper. She
later crashed the boards again to put Duke ahead, and had several key rebounds
down the stretch. What was frustrating is that she then slipped into the
background again for several games, making the occasional play here or there
but rarely for any sustained burst. Against Virginia Tech, for example, she
had a 12 minute stretch where she was Duke's best scorer. In the road game
against Maryland, the Terps' strategy was to leave Whitley open and guard
everyone else, and Wynter responded by dropping 11 points on them on 5-7

After a forgettable ACC tournament, Wynter was tapped to start in place of an
injured Jess Foley. She responded with a spectacular game against Canisius in
the first round, a strong showing against Boston College in the second, and
slightly shakier appearances after that. Still, she did a good job in a tough
situation, and helped boost her team into the Elite Eight. After a couple of
rough years, Wynter could walk away from Duke knowing that she had made a
difference on the court once again. Injuries and tragedies prevented her from
becoming a great player; she lost a lot of the hunger it takes to be the best.
However, Wynter was always very good at putting the team's needs ahead of her
own glory, and the result was a pretty nice run. As a result, Wynter earned a
contract in a Swiss basketball league, and the regard of many fans.

Best Games: Penn State (11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 steals); Virginia
Tech (10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks); @ Maryland (11 points); Canisius (12
points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists); Boston College (7 points, 5 rebounds, 2
assists, 3 steals)

Statwise: Wynter finished 20th all time on the blocked shots list with 39, and
26th on the steals list with 114.

** Caitlin Howe 5-10 G So 1.4 ppg

Notable 2005 Achievements:
Team Academic Award

Season Recap: Caitlin went into this season with high hopes. The guard
position was wide-open, especially with Lindsey Harding being sidelined
for the year. This was after a career of frustrating injuries, false
starts and just plain bad luck. Through it all, she kept training hard
and excelled as a student. It's just unfortunate that basketball never
quite came together for her.

With so many young guards, Caitlin drew her first career start in an
exhibition game, and played well. She hit a three on the break, got a
steal and runout and had a spectacular pass to Monique Currie. Caitlin
hit some key jumpers in the second exhibition game and even got physical
in going after boards. After a good showing against Notre Dame in a tight
loss, things began to go south for her. Wanisha Smith took over the
starting point guard position, and Howe's deficits on defense began to
become more and more pronounced. She also had a tendency to turn the ball
over and immediately foul. Cait was still getting playing time, but only
got significant minutes in blowouts. Still, with only nine players on the
roster, she was able to give some of the regulars a bit of rest.

In early January, she hurt her leg badly and was lost for the rest of
the season. With so many guards coming into the program this year and so
many years of difficult rehab, she decided to retire as a player but stay
on as a student assistant. Howe noted that she probably over-trained in
an effort to get back to peak physical condition, so hopefully her
presence will help inspire other players to rehab safely. I have no doubt
that she will reap the team's Academic Award yet again and go on to great
things. Caitlin is a competitor and a worker, and that toughness will do
her well no matter what field she enters.

Best Games: South Florida (9 points); Notre Dame (8 points); Ball State (8
points, 2 assists, 2 steals)