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Duke Powers By Texas Down The Stretch

Duke 84, Texas 70. December 4th, 2005. Erwin Center.

Everyone could sense that Duke was due for a tight game. Duke had Auburn at
arm's length for most of the game until they ran them out of the building in
the second half, but had yet to face a concerted effort by a foe. While Duke
had yet to face a top 25 team, they were still going up against quality
opponents. For example, Penn State just defeated top 20 Texas Tech, and Old
Dominion beat Penn State. To Duke's credit, they are going on the road to some
tough buildings. Texas has a very young squad and has struggled some this
year, but playing at home gave them a lot of confidence.

This showed in the early going, when they took a lead that lasted for nearly
five minutes. Against Tennessee in the game immediately prior to playing Duke,
the Lady Vols blew out with a 17-0 run that stunned the Longhorns. They had to
play furiously just to come within 14 at the half, and their exhaustion showed
when Tennessee turned on the afterburners and smoked them by 40. While Duke
wasn't able to crack their confidence, experience still told down the stretch.
There was a lot that went wrong for Duke--transition defense, the use of the
press, carelessness with the ball--but when you got down to the nitty gritty of
halfcourt basketball, the seasoned Devils were able to execute when they needed
to. Duke used its bench wisely and was fresh enough to out-tough an exhausted

Despite its immense talent and depth, Duke is still a team in progress. Some
veterans are still trying to establish roles, while many newcomers don't know
quite where they stand as of yet. Some players are battling injuries and are
finding it difficult to get up to speed. The communication (especially on
defense) is not yet what it should be. Despite that, the chemistry between the
core veterans is still outstanding, and everyone on the team is willing to do
the dirty work of setting screens, hustling after loose balls and playing
physical defense.

The game was tight in the first three minutes. Mistie Williams was active
inside, hitting a couple of free throws and a 15' jumper. Lindsey Harding made
an early mark in her return to her home state by executing one of her one-woman
fast breaks. After that, Williams picked up her second foul and went to the
bench. Alison Bales started instead of Chante Black, and that limited Duke's
ability to press in the early going. Unfortunately, Black was out of synch for
much of the game. Bales did contribute with a dish to Williams, a free throw
and a stickback to keep Duke within range. Texas took a 15-9 lead with under
thirteen minutes to go.

Coach G went deeper into her bench, bringing in veteran guards Wanisha Smith
and Jess Foley. Foley responded with a 15' jumper and Nish hit a three.
Carrem Gay was also in the game and grabbed the rebound that helped set up
Smith's jumper. As Duke's defense tightened up, they took advantage with a
pull-up three by Lindsey Harding. Those who haven't seen her play yet this
year were probably startled to see how smooth her jumper looks. Texas
responded after Duke's 8-0 run with a stickback and a three by frosh sensation
Erika Arriaran. Currie stepped up with 2 freebies and a fast break finish.
Abby Waner triggered that play with a steal and brought Duke to within a point
at 24-23.

Laura Kurz came off the bench and attacked the basket with a nice drive to
give Duke back the lead. Texas responded with back-to-back jumpers and had
another chance to score, but Emily Waner stole the ball and found her sister
for a fast break layup. Tiffany Jackson blew by everyone for a score, but
Currie hit A.Waner for a three to tie the score at 30. Waner kept things close
after 3 straight points from the Lady Longhorns by getting a stickback, and
then had a remarkable pass in transition to a streaking Currie for a three
point play. Mo hit the freebie and knotted the score once again, 35-up. Texas
got a good pass inside and scored in the paint, but Bales responded by hitting
a deep baseline jumper.

The last two minutes saw a flurry of errors by both teams. After multiple
turnovers by both teams, Duke was going to hold the ball for the last shot of
the half. However, Foley threw a lazy crosscourt pass that Jackson intercepted
and ran back, getting fouled. She only hit 1 and Bales grabbed the board.
Currie zipped up the court and missed a baseline jumper, but Bales grabbed the
rebound and stuck it back with 1 tick on the clock. After a slow start, Currie
led Duke with 9 points, while Bales had 7 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Abby Waner had a solid 7 points. Williams wound up playing only five minutes,
and her absence helped account for 14 points in the paint by Texas. While
Bales was doing her best to make up for her absence, Black wasn't very
effective. She tried a couple of lazy passes that were picked off, and wasn't
even a strong presence defensively. Despite Duke's problems, Texas had thrown
a series of haymakers, shooting 56%, but were still down.

Though Texas went ahead early in the half, Duke was playing smarter. They
limited fouls (just 8 in the half after 12 early on), and in particular stopped
picking up offensive fouls after being whistled for 3 of them. There were
fewer turnovers and a more concerted effort of going to the veterans for
scores. Duke shot better, played more intense defense, and forced Texas to
take tougher shots. In general, they were trying to make things a bit less
easy for Texas. Cutting down on turnovers helped--in the second half, the
Devils had a 12-5 edge in points off turnovers.

Duke took a 41-40 lead when Bales found Williams on a high-low lob. When this
play is working well, it's truly Duke's bread-and-butter. With Bales' size and
court vision combined with Williams' power and ability to seal off defenders,
it's a play that is extremely difficult to defend. Duke sometimes doesn't
execute it correctly (usually because the passer in the high post waits too
long to throw the pass), but it's a great halfcourt set. Harding put Duke up
by 3 as she blew by Carla Cortijo. Nina Norman responded by burying a jumper
and Texas got the ball back. But A.Waner picked her friend Arriaran's pocket
for a steal and runout.

Texas kept getting closer, and Duke kept holding them at bay. Bales responded
to 2 Texas foul shots by hitting a jumper. Williams stuck back a Harding miss
after Jackson had scored. Duke finally got a bit more separation after a Texas
foul as Harding hit Williams inside to give Duke a 51-46 lead. Texas scored
inside and then missed a couple of chances to cut the lead. Currie made them
pay with a drive, but Jackson slithered her way in for another score. Though
she looked unstoppable there, she wouldn't score again for nearly four minutes.
Harding continued her strong second half by pulling up for a 15' jumper and
nailing it.

Then the game got ugly. Mo Currie was trying to create some separation
between her and Earnesia Williams, and decked her with an elbow in doing so.
An angered Williams jumped up and pushed Currie. Mo was whistled for an
intentional foul and Williams was given a technical. Currie hit both of her
shots to put Duke up 57-50 with under thirteen minutes to go. Williams then
hit her 2 shots. The incident seemed to inspire Texas, and it certainly fired
up their crowd. The Longhorns went on an 11-4 run that started with Arriaran
hitting a jumper. Smith found Gay on an inbounds play where Carrem nailed a
short jumper to put Duke up 4. Norman hit a shot that was matched when Gay
stuck back a Currie miss. Norman hit another shot, and then Jackson notched
her last basket of the game with under ten minutes to go.

The Longhorns had a chance to take the lead after Smith missed a three. She
grabbed the board, and then later drove in to hit a 15' banker. Cortijo pulled
the trigger for a quick shot that missed and Bales grabbed the board. A.Waner
then found Smith for a three, which she nailed. Jackson turned the ball over
and Currie responded by rebounding a Waner miss and hitting a 10' jumper to put
Duke up 68-61 with under eight minutes left. Texas stayed in range as Cortijo
and Cook both hit jumpers, but Harding drove by everyone for another score.
After Texas pulled within 70-65, Bales hit Williams with a perfect lob from the
high post to make it 7 once again.

Duke baited Arriaran into taking a bad shot, and Williams rebounded a Smith
miss on an easy layup to make it 74-65 with under six to play. Texas pulled
within 74-67, but Currie rebounded her own miss after Jackson blocked her shot
and was fouled. She nailed her freebies to make it 9 again. Bales then dug in
for a steal and threw a perfect outlet pass to Currie, who finished in

Norman nailed a huge three to make it 78-70 with three minutes to go. Texas
would not score again, missing 4 shots and turning the ball over three times.
Duke wasn't doing it the easy way either, as Bales missed 2 free throws, Smith
missed an easy shot and Currie missed a layup. Finally, Texas had to foul
Harding with under a minute left, and she nailed both. After a Currie steal,
Texas had to foul her. Bales hit Currie for one last score for the final
margin, and Duke had earned a solid win.

The stat that really jumps out at you is that Duke wound up with a 44-28
advantage with points in the paint. Though Duke didn't meet a lot of its
defensive goals, meeting this one was crucial. Duke wants to play inside out
as much as possible and get the ball to its bigs. The Devils also controlled
the boards, thanks mostly to Bales' 13 rebounds. Bales and Williams did a fine
job of harrassing Jackson in the second half, forcing her into 3-9 shooting, 2
rebounds and 2 turnovers. Jackson in the open court is a dangerous player, but
Jackson in the halfcourt was nowhere near as effective against Duke's tall

The good news is that Duke will soon have plenty of time to practice, since
there are no games for 2 weeks after the Devils take on TCU on Tuesday. As the
ACC season looms ahead, there's still plenty of fine-tuning to be done. Still,
it's a good feeling for the team to win yet another true road game against the
team that had the top-ranked recruiting class. More reassuringly, it's good to
see other players emerge in the clutch other than Currie.


** Bales: This team is built around its post players. When they're producing,
everything else flows smoothly. When they're not, or land in foul trouble,
that inbalance grinds Duke's offense to a halt. Defensively, Alison has been a
stalwart throughout her career, including this season. If anything, she's
better than ever, adding a quickness level that's enabled her to swell her
steals total as well as her imposing shot-blocking abilities. Offense has been
her struggle, but in this game she was able to find ways to stay aggressive
against a strong front line. She bothered Jackson with her size and had no
trouble blocking her out, to the tune of 13 rebounds. Offensively, she had a
couple of stickbacks, a couple of soft jumpers, and a free throw. Not an
onslaught, certainly, but enough to keep Texas honest. The other dimension she
brought was her passing. Her dishes to Williams inside from the high post were
things of beauty and well-timed. About the only downer was going 1-3 from the
foul line, though the first can be forgiven, since she was nursing a twisted
ankle. This was the first time she ever led the team in assists, and just
shows that one never knows who's going to make the big passes for Duke.

** Williams: Mistie continues to take her summer Tall Woman camp's lessons to
heart, as she's staying aggressive, using her feet to get good position, and
then finishing. She's keeping her moves as simple as possible and is focusing
on the fundamentals: screen, face up, catch the ball and be ready with both a
move and a countermove. After sitting out most of the first half (though not
without scoring 4 quick points), she dominated the second half with 10 points
and 4 rebounds. In the half, she finished two high-lows, had 2 freebies, a
stickback and an easy score on a feed from Harding. Texas had no answer for
her strength and power, and when you throw in her newfound agility and ability
to hit the jumper, you certainly have a tough player to stop. Hopefully, she
can be a bit more careful with regard to foul trouble while still playing hard.

** Currie: Crunch-Time Currie scored 8 of Duke's last 10 points, and went 9-9
from the line. On top of everything, she just moved ahead of Georgia
Schweitzer on Duke's scoring charts. Mo again barely broke a sweat doing it,
scoring on 2 fast breaks, a 15' jumper and 2 drives. The rest came at the
line, and she earned them by attacking the basket. Mo didn't have to crank up
her "relentlessness" attributes in this game, though that intentional foul made
her keenly focused down the stretch. Texas didn't have anyone who could really
defend her, so she took over when she had to.

** A.Waner: Abby did struggle at times trying to guard Arriaran, but she kept
her wits about her and eventually wound up with a big steal for a score. Waner
was once again extremely active, picking up 3 steals and dishing twice to
Currie. Once again, she had a calm about her on the floor and wisely waited
her turn to show off some offense. Waner scored 7 in a row at one point and
then broke off an assist, which is kind of her game in microcosm.

** Harding: Lindsey played her old rival Norman to a standstill. Considering
that Norman is one of their key players, this wasn't a matchup that Texas could
afford to get away from them. While Norman shot well from the field, Harding
prevented her from acting as a playmaker. Meanwhile, Norman was doing much the
same thing to Harding--both players aren't known as shooters, and both teams
were trying to make their lead guards prove themselves. Harding certainly was
up to the task, driving in for 3 scores and nailing a couple of jumpers. She
only had 1 assist against 3 turnovers ss Norman didn't let her create much, but
Harding did her damage.

** Black: Chante had a forgettable game, grabbing just 2 rebounds and turning
it over 3 times. That included a horrible pass where the cutter wasn't where
she was supposed to be, which was frustrating because it should have been a
fairly easy read to make. I still like Chante as a starter, but her
aggressiveness in recent games was absent.

** Smith: After struggling recently, Nish made a statement in this game. Nish
proved that she could still hit big shots, still play defense, and still help
her team win while making plays. While she made some mistakes (including a
couple of bad passes and an offensive foul), there's no question that she was
the big key in Duke's final run at the end of the game. Those back-to-back
baskets gave Duke the separation it needed to put Texas away. Those were shots
she had been bricking, but today she looked quite calm out there as she
attempted those shots. Smith also proved to be a tough matchup for Texas.
Norman had to guard Harding, which meant that a much shorter Cortijo had to try
to check Smith. Nish played intelligently, using her size to generate
mismatches and get clean looks at the basket. The bench needs a scoring spark,
and I had been hoping all along that Nish would get another chance to prove

** Foley: Jess hit a big shot early, but never got into any kind of rhythm.
That turnover she had late in the first half pretty much guaranteed that she'd
be glued to the bench in the second half. There will definitely be games where
she comes up big, but her tendency to be relaxed on the court shouldn't mean
being careless. The bench has to be focused, intense and ready to contribute

** Gay: Carrem played just 7 minutes, but she made the most of them. I love
her ability to hit the mid-range jumper. All of her points came in the middle
of a big Texas run, and Carrem was not only able to buy time for the starting
posts, she helped Duke stay afloat offensively. Carrem is coming along slowly
but is certainly contributing, considering that she's the fourth post.

** Kurz: Laura had one great drive, surprising Texas with her ability to put it
on the floor. She also missed a three, but generally played well when she was

** E.Waner: Other than the steal and assist to her sister, Emily had a tough
day. She had 3 turnovers, including an offensive foul where she was trying to
clear out her opponent with an elbow. She continues to struggle from the field
as she readjusts to playing on that injured toe. I really do think it's
affecting her mentally, if not physically. She rushes her shots and isn't
penetrating as much as she should. That foot injury may also be inhibiting her
first step, making her look slow on the court. All of this will be corrected
down the road, and I imagine Coach G will continue to put her out there in an
effort to get her more comfortable with her teammates.