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Duke Withstands Clemson

Duke 72, Clemson 48. February 17, 2004. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Coach G noted that this was a dog days sort of game, the kind where a
team looking forward to the postseason can't quite get motivated against a
last-place opponent. That is, until that last-place team puts forth an
inspired performance and makes them sweat a bit. That's exactly what
happened against the Tigers, as Duke took a decent lead, got sloppy and
gave the Tigers a chance to come back. To their credit, Clemson hit some
big shots and had Duke reeling. It didn't help that the one player who is
always intense, Monique Currie, is not only hobbled by her foot injury but
was also suffering from the effects of the flu. Still, that didn't stop
her from stepping up and hitting the biggest shot of the game for Duke,
one that triggered a 22-2 run that put the Tigers away. Duke must be
careful that this malaise doesn't last, because Georgia Tech in Atlanta is
a potential trap game.

This edition of Clemson is the worst in Jim Davis' career. Even when he
struggled the last couple of years, he at least had players like Chrissy
Floyd and Chicken Bone Stokes who could score whenever they needed to.
This team has seven new players and it's been a struggle to integrate some
of the new talent with the lesser returnees. Davis' most intractable
problem has been a lack of quality size. 6-4 Amanda White is about all he
has inside, and while she has her moments, she's not nearly talented
enough to carry the team. As a result, Clemson has been pounded on the
boards by nearly every foe

That weakness inside was certainly noticed by Coach G, who ordered her
team to attack inside and then attack inside some more. The problem in
the game was that the team got a bit too single-minded. The guards would
find an angle, pass the ball inside, and then quit on the play, not
noticing whether or not the bigs had a decent shot or not and not making
themselves available for ball reversal. The bigs often shot too quickly
inside, even when double-teamed, instead of looking for another player
inside or trying to pass the ball back out.

Another problem came when the defense relaxed in the last five minutes
of the first half. Duke had held the Tigers to just 9 points up to that
moment, but grew enormously sloppy down the stretch as they gave up 15
more points before halftime. The Devils had held a 17 point lead and
pretty much figured that Clemson was going to roll over, and started
giving them wide-open looks at the basket while making ridiculous errors
at the offensive end. Clemson had nothing to lose at that point and
starting playing with a certain eager looseness and energy. It would take
some emotional second half plays to get Duke's energy back up to an
acceptable level.

In the game's first six minutes, Duke limped out to a 9-3 lead. The
defense was smothering, forcing 2 30-second violations from Clemson. The
Tigers' only score came on a three after a poorly executed blitz from
Duke. Duke got its scores from early 3-6 shooting from the line, a
Mistie Williams finish on a high post pass from Currie, and a great Alison
Bales pass to Currie on a cut. Wanisha Smith then scored on a runner.
Chante Black got a rebound on a Clemson miss, grabbed her own miss, and
then scored to make it 13-5. Currie added 2 free throws to give Duke its
first double-digit lead.

Clemson cut the lead to 6 after Currie missed the front end of a
one-and-one. However, the Black-Wynter Whitley platoon made a big play.
Chante had the ball in the paint and saw Wynter get open. She passed the
ball and Whitley nailed a 17' jumper that sparked an 11-0 run. Currie,
Whitley and Foley all hit some free throws as Williams & Black dominated
the boards. Bales and Foley then ran a play where Foley had the ball,
passed it to Bales and then immediately got the ball back right behind
her, leaving her wide open for a three. Williams pulled down another
rebound and posted up for a one-handed fling at the hoop after a pass from
Smith. With six minutes to go in the half, Duke led 26-9.

Clemson scored inside, but Foley dished inside to Williams, who had her
foe on her hip. With her opponent sealed off, Mistie simply wheeled
around for the easy score. Clemson scored, and then Williams threw the
ball away. The Tigers suddenly cut the lead to 10 on a three, but Laura
Kurz hit a wide open trey that made Jim Davis fume. Instead of building
on that play, Duke collapsed in the last two minutes. Smith turned the
ball over and Reggie Maddox scored. Whitley missed a shot, and only a
hustling Jess Foley managed to tip it in. The Tigers scored the last four point
of the half, including a monster step-back three with two seconds left by
Maddox over Foley. At the half, Clemson was hanging in there, down by
just 9. Foley had 9 points for Duke and Williams 7. Clemson had used 12
different players in an effort to wear Duke down and find some
combinations that would work.

Instead of coming out with a chip on their shoulder in the second half,
Duke missed several shots and started turning the ball over. The Devils
had plenty of opportunities to score but started to get more and more
jittery. A 30 second timeout didn't help much as the Devils missed
another shot and Clemson got three chances to score, cutting the lead to
33-28. The Devils finally focused after that, as Smith scored on a drive
and stepped up their defense. Bales had a rebound in traffic, and Foley
stuck back a Currie miss. Ali then blocked a shot and Duke got the ball

Black came back into the game and Duke ran the same play for Black and
Foley that they had with Bales and Foley in the first half: pass to a
high-post screener, who dishes back to the shooter. Once again, it worked
perfectly and Duke's lead suddenly was up to 12 again in less than two
minutes. The next six minutes saw the two teams trade baskets. A Kurz
basket was sandwiched between 2 Clemson jumpers. Williams then had the
ball on the low block and flipped it behind her to a cutting Black for a
spectacular basket. However, Tasha Phillips of Clemson started to get hot
and nailed a three. Currie countered with a floater in the lane and then
Nish stuck back her own miss to make it 48-36. Phillips hit another
jumper to make the margin 10 and then had a great look at a three but
missed. Duke took advantage as Williams got a great pass from Currie and
sealed her opponent.

Duke was keeping Clemson at arm's length and seemed content to do so for
the rest of the game. However, Phillips hit consecutive threes after
consecutive turnovers by Smith. Suddenly, with under eight minutes to go,
the lead was just 50-45. As always, when things got tight, it was time to
go to Currie. Even though she wasn't at her best, she was still the #1
option. She took the ball, drove the lane and sank her signature
fade-away jumper in the lane. Black grabbed a rebound, and Currie then
fed Williams inside for a three point play. That was aided by a lane
violation the first time Mistie tried to hit the free throw and missed.
Duke led 55-45 but Clemson was still in the fight with nearly seven
minutes left. With their shooters locked up (Currie had switched over to
guard Phillips and simply erased her), Maddox took a great pass on a cut
and drove to the basket. Black pinned her excellent shot to the backboard
and grabbed the rebound, snuffing out Clemson's best chance at coming back

Chante later grabbed a miss by Smith and went high to stick it back in,
giving Duke a 12 point lead again. Foley then blocked a Maddox attempt
after she grabbed an offensive board, and Clemson couldn't come up with a
score. Black then had the ball in the paint and dished out to Bales, who
pulled up and nailed a gorgeous jumper. That gave Duke a 14 point lead, and
Smith pushed it out further with a steal and layup. Foley then took a
charge in the backcourt, a play that pumped up her teammates and saw the
Tigers wave the white flag. Whitley hit Smith on a cut after that to give
Duke a 63-47 lead and cap off a 13-0 run.

The rest of the game was pretty much a formality. Foley followed some
Clemson foul shots with 2 free throws of her own, and then later hit a
three in the corner. Smith had a late drive and a Black steal led to a
very slow fast break finish for Foley. The usually animated Davis
actually sat down for the last three or four minutes, knowing that his
team had quit on him. Still, they gave it quite a run for about 30 or so
minutes, and hit a lot of shots that hadn't gone down for them earlier in
the year. The fact that they were competitive was a very good thing for
Duke, who needed a reminder that this team simply isn't going to overwhelm
anyone with raw talent and ability alone. That's especially true with
Currie not at her best. The team may be looking forward to the
postseason, but if they don't learn to take care of business now, that
postseason trip could be shorter than expected.

** Negatives:

1. Foul shooting. Part of the reason why Duke played like they had a
bigger lead than they really did in the first half was that they got to
the line so often. But Duke only sank 11-21 in the half and 14-27 for the
game, and that ten point or so margin is what turned the game competitive
in the second half.

2. Perimeter defense. Clemson, one of the worst shooting teams in the
league, managed to hit 6 three pointers and had some great looks that
didn't drop. In particular, Duke was slow to cover red-hot Tasha Phillips
and Coach G was forced to put Currie on her.

3. Balance. When Duke is playing well, the inside-outside shift becomes
obvious. The team knows when to run, when to slash, when to pound it
inside and when to take the three. In this game, the team seemed to make
a number of bad decisions until the last few minutes of the game.

** Positives:

1. Rebounding. In the first half, Duke was only +5 over a very bad
rebounding club. Enter Chante' Black. She had 11 rebounds of her own in
the second half as Duke turned that +5 into a +17 mark. Her rebounding
down the stretch prevented the Tigers from getting any second looks.

2. Spreading the wealth. Duke had four players in double figures, with
Mistie Williams being a welcome returnee to this fold. Clemson couldn't
just concentrate on limiting Monique Currie, especially with the backcourt
stepping up to score.

3. Interior defense. Duke's bigs were imposing--it's no accident that
Duke had a 40-4 edge in the paint. Bales had 3 blocks, Black had a
momentum-turning block and even Foley went inside to deflect a sure score.


** Bales: Defensively, Ali was her usual solid self. Offensively, her
early misses at the foul line left her visibly shaken. As a result, her
confidence waned and she stopped being aggressive. It didn't help that
none of her early shots dropped as she was going to the hoop. However,
the jumper she hit with five minutes left was a big one. Ali had a ton of
rebounds early on but fell off a bit when she grew less aggressive. When
she finally hit a shot from the field, it seemed to perk up her spirits
and she became aggressive again, blocking three shots down the stretch.

** Williams: The team was obviously trying to get her as many looks as
possible, and to her credit she was able to knock down a decent number of
shots. Her two seal-and-spin moves were Williams at her best--using both
power and agility. Her three point play with seven minutes left put Duke
up by 10 and out of danger. Mistie's pass to Chante in the post
was a brilliant play and an excellent read. Mistie played with a lot of
emotion in the second half, and that helped fire up a lot of her younger
teammates. With Currie ailing, Williams needs to continue to step up her
leadership along with her scoring. Duke plays well when they are playing
with emotion, and too many of the younger players can fall into playing
flatly. Mistie has always been an emotional sparkplug and must continue
to find ways to inspire the other.

** Currie: Mo was not only hobbled by her foot injury, she was slowed by
the flu. That fade-away that she hit seemed to take every last ounce of
energy from her and she went to the bench a couple of minutes later, when
Duke's victory was assured. Overall, this wasn't exactly Mo's most
dominant performance, but she still had a few significant plays. Despite
all of her problems, she was still able to get to the line 7 times. She
hit a runner in the lane, had that crucial assist to Williams and played
smothering defense on Phillips when the game was on the line. Coach G
noted that Mo hadn't been able to eat in the last 2 days because of the
flu. An added stressor was the presence of Phoenix Mercury coach Carrie
Graf, scouting Mo as a potential high pick in next year's draft (if she
decides to come out). Mo tonight became the #8 scorer in Duke history
with 1379 points, passing Jen Scanlon. Next up is her old mentor Kira
Orr, who is 9 points ahead of her. Currie also entered the top 15
rebounders list with 607 and is #12 in assists with 275. Currie is also
#10 in blocks with 64, #10 in steals with 161 and 34 in free throws made
with 364. And she hasn't even finished out three years! A fourth year
would give her a chance at several records and potentially a retired

** Foley: A brilliant showing from Jess at both ends of the floor. She
played hustling defense, nailed some key jumpers, and even had a couple
of tenacious tip-ins. She nailed 3 threes, sank all 6 free throws, found
Williams for a key first-half score and even finished a fast break.
However, the two plays that show how much she's improved as a player this
year were her 2 stickbacks. One came after a miss where she was under the
basket and stuck with it, getting a score. The other was a pure-effort
tip-in. Jess took a charge that deflated the Tigers and also had a couple
of steals. After the game, Foley said that she didn't feel any additional
pressure to score with Currie not feeling her best, but she did indeed
step up.

** Smith: Nish had a decent scoring game, though she made some errors on
the floor that helped Clemson's comeback. She made up for it with an
aggressive second half that saw her score 10 of her 12 points. All of
them came off the dribble or on stickbacks as she used her quickness to
good effect. Nish also forced a held ball but lost her opponent a few
times on defense. To her credit, she stepped up her play in the last
eight minutes of the game after making a couple of big errors, scoring 6
of her 12 points and getting a steal.

** Kurz: Laura hit an open three to answer a Clemson trey late in the
first half and had a nice score on a Foley dish. She also hustled for a
couple of important offensive boards. Once again, she was slowed down by
foul trouble. Clemson scouted her well for the most part, forcing her to
put the ball on the floor. Laura also seemed a bit confused at times on
defense, trying to figure out which player to cover.

** Whitley: Wynter hit a big jumper in the first half that stopped a
Clemson run, but wasn't an offensive force otherwise, especially with 3
turnovers. Two of them came down the stretch in the first half and
allowed Clemson to cut into the lead. Defensively, she was her usual
competitive self, grabbing a couple of steals and blocking a shot.
Wynter also had a nice assist to Smith on a cut. I would have liked to
have seen her on the wing a bit more and perhaps driving to the basket.

** Black: Chante immediately established herself as a force in the second
half, grabbing 5 rebounds in nine minutes. The only thing that held her
back was picking up 2 fouls in the half. In the second half, she was an
absolute monster on the boards and the defensive end. Even though she had
only 6 points, her 5 assists meant that she was passing wisely out of
double-teams. The major negative in this game was her going 0-4 from the
foul line, though every attempt looked good coming off her hands. Tay set
a freshman record with 16 rebounds, and one got the sense that there's no
upper limit on how many boards she could pull in during a game. (The Duke
record is 24, set by Barb Krause over 20 years ago.) Her passing was
amazing in this game; one would never expect her to lead the team in
assists, yet she did. The passes inside-out to Bales and Whitley were
solid, but I also liked her pass-back to Foley for a three and the "fast
break" dish to Foley. (Chante had stolen the ball in the open court and
sort of half-ran the court to keep control of the ball.) Chante went very
high to get her tip-in, but her play of the game was the pin-block on
Maddox. Not only was that a spectacular play, but it also ended Clemson's