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Duke Tames Auburn

Duke 69, Auburn 37. November 27, 2005. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

This was an extremely interesting test for Duke against a team with a
lot of size and young talent. Auburn isn't ranked in the top 25 now, but
they may well be later in the season, and this particular group will be
heard from in their careers. The most intriguing players are
pipecleaner-thin 6-4 wing Dewanna Bonner and 6-7 center KeKe Carrier, a
powerful but agile player who simply needs to get in better shape. Both
were consensus top-20 players coming out of high school, and both frosh
simply need time to develop. Throw in senior 6-5 shotblocking machine Marita
Payne, solid wing Alexis Ogubie and talented frosh point guard Whitney Boddie,
and you have a team with size and quickness.

What Auburn lacked was experience, especially in dealing with a team
that was as quick and big as they were. Their coach, Nell Fortner, had no
interest in getting in a track meet with Duke, which dictated her game
plan. With her team's length, she dropped into a simple 2-3 zone, hoping
to deflect some passes with long wingspans. Offensively, they wanted to
avoid turning the ball over, so she employed a walk-it-up style that used
most of the shot clock in an effort to shorten the game. In the first
half, this plan worked OK, but not great (13 turnovers leading to 15 Duke
points). The Tigers fell into a ten point hole early in the game, but stuck
around for most of the first half and even cut into Duke's lead.

The problem for Duke was that after getting that early lead, the team
became too conservative at both ends. The Devils were shutting down
Auburn well enough with their base defense, so they stopped aggressively
going after the ball and trying to generate open-court turnovers. The
rub became Auburn finally starting to find holes in Duke's halfcourt
defense (mostly with Boddie driving and hitting short jumpers) and as a
result, prevented Duke from pulling away. After being stunned by Duke's
size for much of the half, Auburn was able to recover a bit and took
advantage of the slight disorganization caused by Duke's use of eleven
players in the first half. Happily for the Devils, they threw a defensive
knockout punch in the second half that stunned Auburn and delighted the
crowd of over 5,000.

Duke started the game on a 6-0 run. Abby Waner started with a bang, driving
in for a 10' banked-in jumper, and then hitting 2 free throws. Mo Currie got a
stickback to give Duke a solid start. After an Auburn deuce, Lindsey Harding
cut through the teeth of the zone and dropped off a perfect pass for Chante
Black. harding then hit Currie and Waner for back-to-back threes to make it
14-4 just six minutes into the game. The margin stayed at 10 for the next six
minutes, with a Bales steal leading to a Currie fast break finish and Harding
dishing inside to Mistie Williams for a three point play. Auburn countered
each time to make it 19-9 with under eight minutes to go. The Tigers were
having trouble with Alison Bales and Chante Black inside and also had a shot
clock violation.

Another three by Currie and 3 points from Williams made it 25-11 with under
six minutes left. Duke looked like they were going to pull away, but the
reserves were just 1-12 from the field with 2 turnovers. Auburn was able to
climb back into the game at 25-15. After over 2.5 minutes without a point,
Jessica Foley broke Duke's slump to put them up by 13. The two teams traded
scores until Harding pulled up for a dramatic three to make it 33-19 with under
two minutes to go. Once again, Duke seemed to be in total control, but several
late errors and some hustle by the Tigers allowed them to trim the halftime
lead to 33-23. Duke was actually outshot, 41% to 39%, but superior three point
shooting kept Duke ahead. The Tigers battled Duke to a 17-all standstill on the
boards. Though they were down by 10 and had 13 turnovers, this was most
certainly still a game.

Duke flubbed their first couple of possessions of the second half, and a bad
defensive rotation led to Bonner sinking a wide-open three to cut the lead to
7. Waner passed over the zone to Black for a score. Bonner then had another
clean shot and missed, and Auburn also missed an easy stickback. Leaving those
points on the table was a big mistake. Waner got a stickback to push the lead
up to 37-26. Williams dove for a steal and pushed it ahead to Harding for a
driving three point play. After another stop, Williams passed to Currie for a
19' jumper, and was fouled as Currie released the ball. Duke scored and got
the ball inbounds after that turnover, and Currie nailed a jumper from Harding.
After another miss, Black threw a perfect outlet pass to Waner, who finished a
fast break in traffic. Duke kept pouring it on, as Black got a stickback, Waner
hit a three, Harding stole an inbounds pass underneath the basket and scored and
Williams had a stickback. When the dust settled, Duke had finished a 22-0 run
and was up 55-26 with thirteen minutes to go. Williams, Black, Waner and
Harding would sit out the rest of the game, and Currie would play just 3 more

Coach G pulled the starters in favor of their platooned backups. The good
news is that this group only allowed Auburn to score 9 points in the last
twelve minutes of the game. The bad news is that they only scored 12 points on
their own. The reserves were just 4-14 from the field with 7 turnovers, but
they get 6 steals on their own. Those last ten minutes were pretty painful to
watch, with the only highlights 7 points from Gay (including a fast break
finish); Bales sealing off a defender, allowing Foley to drive in for a score;
and Laura Kurz trying to go behind her back, tripping but managing to pass out
to Emily Waner, who sank a three.

A few words abou the starting lineup and the extended rotation. I favor
starting Chante for one simple reason--Coach G wants to run and press
aggressively from the start of games. The lineup of Black, Williams, Currie,
Waner and Harding has proven to be the best suited for that kind of game.
Williams has really trimmed down and become a lot more mobile and suited for
that sort of game, while Waner has proven that she can run up and down with the
rest of that group while making plays. This is the group that laid the smack
down on Auburn with that 22-0 run. It is quite clear that Alison Bales is
not well-suited for this style of play.

However, I don't think the five-for-five platoon system is working. I realize
that Coach G is trying to find minutes for everyone, but I certainly don't
believe it's helping Ali any right now. Her style of play doesn't seem to
mesh well with Carrem, and so we lose out on the high-low play that she's
developed with Williams and Black. What I would like is a tighter rotation,
with Ali coming in for Mistie or Chante five or six minutes into the game. I'd
then like to try to feature her on offense, with the first team playmakers
looking to feed her the ball. Ali looked discouraged when she wasn't getting
the ball in good position and had to try to create on her own against some
formidable shotblockers. To her credit, she at least did a fine job defensively.
In competitive games, I think Duke should stick to 8 or 9 players at most for
continuity purposes. Even in blowouts, I'd rather see bench players being
mixed in with the starters rather than see them struggle on their own.

All told, this was a solid game where Duke learned quite a bit about what it
can do. The Devils have yet to play a ranked team, though that will come on
the road against a young Texas squad next week. That game will be similar to
this one: an opponent with a lot of size, an incredible amount of depth and
young but raw potential. The difference will be a huge home court advantage,
but luckily Duke already has some experience dealing with that. Duke wound up
+15 on the boards, getting an astounding 24 offense rebounds. Auburn had 29
turnovers against just 8 assists. The lingering image from the game is what
Duke has the potential to become. That eight minute span where their press
confounded Auburn was reminiscent of Tennessee in the late 90's--press, score,
press, score. If Duke can employ that on a regular basis, it could be a very
interesting year. Speaking of Duke's season, the crowds over the weekend were
quite healthy; check out this article on Duke's marketing campaign.


** Black: A fine effort at both ends from Chante. She was attacking the
basket and stuffing shots, and didn't back down from Auburn's bigs--she
went right at them. She made a handful of great plays, including her two post
finishes, her outlet pass to Waner, and 2 superb blocks. Considering that
Auburn was zoning her effectively, Chante did a nice job of taking advantage of
her opportunities when they arose. The only negative was an 0-2 showing from
the foul line, earned after she took it right at Payne.

** Williams: For those who haven't yet seen Mistie in person this year,
you will be surprised at how much more mobile and agile she's become.
Going to the post player camp has helped her game to the point where she
now has a solid chance to make a WNBA roster. More than any other player on the
team, Mistie understands that she's only going to get a limited number of shots
and has to make them count. She waited nearly twelve minutes before her first
attempt, and then scored 8 points in a five minute span. Her three point play
on a Harding pass fired up the team, igniting many chest bumps. Mistie was
extremely effective pressing, getting a steal that led to a harding basket.
She saved her best for last, as she posted up Payne and made a move. Payne
moved to block the shot, then Mistie countered with an up-and-under that froze
Payne as she got an easy score. This was a mature, efficient effort from

** Currie: Mo was ready to go in this game, but she didn't even have to
attack the basket much--her now-formidable jumper did all of her work for
her. She carried the team in the first half with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3
assists and 3 steals. Other than a stickback and a fast break finish,
everything else she hit was a jumper. Interestingly, she's looking most
comfortable shooting from near the corners, but especially on the left side.
It can't be overstated how much she dominated young Bonner, despite a 4 inch
height differential.

** A.Waner: After a tough day offensively against Arkansas State, Abby
bounced back with a strong showing at both ends. All of the parts of the
game that make her so solid (shooting, finishing, a nose for the ball,
timely rebounds, unselfishness) were on display, and she was instrumental
in both Duke's early push and the run that put the game away. Waner had half of
Duke's points in the early 14-4 push and had 7 points an an assist in the 22-0
run in the second half. Abby did miss some threes early on, but to her credit
kept on shooting when it was a good shot. The big negative is that she fired a
few passes inside that had a bit too much zip on them, resulting in turnovers.
Still, a few errors of commission can be tolerated because Abby just makes
things happen on the court. I'm still waiting to see how she'll fare against
the elite guards in the nation, but she's more than held her own so far.

** Harding: Lindsey was named the MVP of the tournament, much to the great
delight of her teammates. It was a nice early reward and bit of
recognition for a player who turned her period of exile into a year of
self-improvement. Check out this article for more on that subject. Harding was named MVP because
Arkansas State had no answer for her offense and Auburn had no answer for her
defense & playmaking. Her line of 8 points, 7 assists, 3 steals and 0
turnovers describes how in control she was at all times. Harding hit a huge
three late in the first half, and then scored gamebreaking baskets during
Duke's big run. Defensively, she helped force Boddie and Nitasha Brown into 12
turnovers. Lindsey has quickly reestablished herself as not only one of the
best point guards in the ACC, but in the entire country.

** Bales: Defensively, Ali was a monster. Offensively, Ali didn't do a
great job of going to counter moves against Auburn's size and
shotblocking. She had at least 2 shots blocked and put up another couple of
shots where she was clearly intimidated. As I noted earlier, this was partly
due to not getting the ball in good spots where she could set up easily to
score. Bales probably should have demanded the ball a bit more, but again she
wasn't playing with the team's best playmakers. On defense, it's hard to argue
with 5 steals, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Auburn went right at her and couldn't

** Smith: Nish had a really tough day. Her shot is just not there right
now, and she's pressing with each attempt. She usually makes up for that
with her playmaking, but she was called for travelling twice and also had
several bad passes. This was a game to forget about.

** Foley: Jess is doing exactly what she needs to do on the floor as a
senior. Even though her shot isn't falling steadily, she hit a crucial
three for Duke (from the UConn game wing spot) late in the first half,
after the Devils had gone a few minutes without scoring. While I don't
expect her to put up big numbers this year, I do expect her to make
winning plays when it counts in the big games.

** E.Waner: Emily continues to struggle a bit, especially on offense. Her shot
is still looking rushed and slightly off balance. She did nail a late three,
but also coughed up the ball a couple of times. Waner did force a held ball on
one possession.

** Gay: After a couple of unremarkable minutes in the first half, Carrem was
determined to make a splash in the second. She was the star of her platoon,
with 7 points, 3 rebounds and a steal. Gay sank a jumper and also finished a
fast break in traffic. She's earned some more minutes, but I don't think she's
quite ready for significant minutes in big games. Hopefully that will change
as the season progresses.

** Kurz: Laura didn't repeat her offensive pyrotechnics of a game earlier, but
she did have several rebounds as well as a falling-down assist.