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Duke Takes Care of Tech

Duke 73, Georgia Tech 55. February 20, 2005. Alexander Mem. Coliseum.

Tech designed their defense to stop Monique Currie and force Duke to hit
jumpers by playing a triangle-and-two. Well, Currie was far from her best
thanks to illness and injury, but Duke burned that defense with some
sharpshooting from beyond the three point line. On a day when three Duke
players were in double figures, it's amazing that Currie wasn't one of
them--for the first time all season. It's a good thing that Duke was
hitting, because Tech outworked Duke on the boards and exploited the defense
for plenty of trips to the line. The good news for Duke is that Tech was
otherwise helpless to score against the Devils' imposing front line and
couldn't hit a jumper the whole game.

That was in stark contrast to the earlier matchup in Durham, when Jill
Ingram and Chioma Nnamaka rained treys on Duke's defense. This time, Duke
got off to a decent start, slowly built a lead, and then really dropped the
hammer in the second half. Duke's defense really helped set the tone in
the second half as it triggered some easy scores in transition. The Devils were
then able to blunt comeback attempts by getting to the line and breaking
Tech's pressure.

The game began with Duke breaking out to an early 8-2 lead. That was
entirely because of Jessica Foley's hot early play. Jess nailed 2 treys
and also hit Wanisha Smith in transition. Tech slowly pulled within 3, but
Foley hit another three to make it 11-5 with twelve minutes left in the
half. Thanks to some timely offensive rebounding, the Jackets cut it to
11-9. Duke's reserves came on to make a difference, however. Wynter
Whitley hit a left-handed bank shot, Laura Kurz sank a three, and Chante
Black nailed a short jumper to make it 18-11 with eight minutes left. Once
again, the Jackets slowly crawled back into the game thanks to their
rebounding, coming within 20-17.

Duke's posts stepped up here, with Alison Bales finding Mistie Williams
on a give-and-go and Ali then tipping in a missed jumper. Mistie later
scored again but Tech narrowed the gap to 26-21. In a key sequence late
in the half, young Tech star Nnamaka missed 2 free throws, with Duke
getting the rebound. Foley then ran a play that worked nicely against
Clemson. Handling the ball, she passed the ball to a post (in this case
Black) on the wing. She immediately ran behind the post player, who
flipped the ball to her. With plenty of space now available, Foley then
drained a trey. That gave Duke a 29-21 halftime lead.

Tech was able to slow the tempo of the game to their liking, but they
still couldn't get enough stops on Duke to be effective. Rebounding kept
them in the game, but barely. Shooting just 27% from the field, they needed
someone to get hot in a hurry. The Jackets were able to heat up a bit early
in the second half, as Duke could just muster a free throw and a Bales
tip-in. Tech cut the lead to 32-28 as Duke had poor spacing on offense.
That was as close as Tech was going to get, however.

Duke continued to try to use their bigs, but did a much better job of
moving them around in order to confuse the defense. The posts were also
passing the ball more efficiently, as evidenced by Bales dishing to
Williams and setting a screen for her to drive for a score. Duke was
making a concerted effort at getting rebounds now, because Tech was
vulnerable to fast breaks since they were sending all five players to the
glass. Currie jumpstarted one break with a board and a pass to Williams,
who made a perfect touch pass to Smith for the finish. That basket seemed
to pump up the defense, who got a stop. Foley then nailed a 15' jumper on
the baseline. Currie got another board and dished to Smith, who carved
her way through the defense for another fast break finish. Suddenly, Duke
was up 40-28 four minutes into the half.

Smith hit 2 freebies as Tech managed to stay within arm's length for a
moment, but the Devils launched a 7-0 run. Foley hit 2 freebies, Smith
sank a three, and Currie got her only field goal with a 15' banker--her
most difficult shot of the day. The Jackets weren't quite done yet, as
they managed to rip off 6 straight points. With under ten minutes left,
the score was 49-37 and it was still a game. Wynter Whitley then took up
some of the slack, scoring 4 points, getting a steal, forcing a held ball
and taking a charge in a decisive sequence that restored Duke's lead.
Foley hit another trey with under seven minutes left that made it 59-39,
and left the rest of the game as a formality. Whitley scored 9 of her 11
points in the last ten minutes of the game, operating as a wing in a
triple-post offense.

With defense more important than offense at that point, Coach G put in
Bales (for defense), Black (for rebounding) and Whitley (for defense and
hustle plays). Black & Whitley wound up scoring 13 of Duke's last 24
points--not bad for defensive specialists. Black helped neutralize Tech's
speed, while Bales was able to both alter shots and block out. In many
respects, this has been one of Coach G's more challenging coaching jobs,
because this team has lacked the versatility that she favors. Currie can
play just about any position, but everyone else has to be carefully
slotted into game situations and how they fit with their teammates on the
floor at the time. A lot of Duke's rough spots can be attributed to
certain parts just not fitting together well, especially on offense. Some
of the adjustments Coach G has made have been extremely clever--Currie at
point, Whitley at wing, and the triple-post offense, for example. We'll
see if the team continues to evolve in the last weeks of the season.

** Negatives:

1. Blocking out. Tech had a distressing 24 offensive rebounds, which simply
shouldn't have happened against Duke's frontcourt. Happily, the defense
held and Duke surrendered just 14 second-chance points. Still, there were
portions of the game where Duke had Tech on the ropes after a series of big
stops, only to foul them or let them get a stickback. When Duke stopped
this in the second half, that set up their big run.

2. Fouling. This often happened after missed shots, but Duke at times had
trouble keeping up with Tech's penetration. The foul line is about the
only thing the prevented this game from getting ugly in a hurry.

3. Foul shooting. The Devils again had plenty of cracks at the foul line,
but they hit a mediocre 65% of their attempts. Duke has to be at 70 - 75%
if they want to be successful.

** Positives:

1. Balance. Duke did a nice job of taking what the opponent was allowing
them rather then forcing the action. The team’s shooters had plenty of open
looks and knocked them down. At the same time, the other players took
advantage of new openings that arose as a result of the shooters loosening
up the lane.

2. Interior defense. Bales had several monster blocks and several altered
shots as she led the defense. Black blocked out everyone in the second half
to dominate the boards. Along with Williams, who played with a lot of fire,
Duke proved tough to drive on.

3. Valuing the ball. Granted, Tech wasn’t putting a lot of pressure on the
ball. Still, Duke had just 11 turnovers. Shooting over 50% meant that Duke
was cashing in on most of their possessions.


** Bales: Against a smaller team, Ali wreaked havoc on Tech's shot
attempts near the basket. While she had trouble blocking out at times
against Tech's swarming guards, Ali did get those two big tip-ins. Ali
missed a couple of jumpers, but they were perfectly good shots taken with
confidence. Her give-and-go with Williams was a great play. A solid game
overall, especially with 6 boards and 5 blocks.

** Williams: Mistie tried some different things today, taking a jumper
(not successful) and putting the ball on the floor with Bales setting a
screen (quite successful). She had a lot of trouble rebounding against
Tech's small lineup, but she did find ways to score. Her play in the last
seven minutes of the first half helped Duke stretch its lead a bit.
Mistie did have one monster block when a Tech player took the ball right
at her, only to see Mistie just slap the ball out of the air and force the
player back. Mistie couldn't hit her foul shots, a continuing problem for

** Currie: Despite the fact that she couldn't drive and couldn't hit
shots, Mo was still needed on the floor for her defense, rebounding and
overall intensity. Her physical defense on Jill Ingram was key in slowing
down Tech's offense, as Mo made her life very difficult (2-14 from the
field). Currie still found ways to score, driving to the basket in the
second half in order to draw fouls. Her rebounding and outlet passes in
the second half were also instrumental in finally breaking down the
Jackets. Hopefully she'll be fully recovered from the flu this week and
will have a couple of days to practice in her new shoes.

** Foley: Foley has gone from a player who wasn't effective as a starter,
to a solid role player, to an indispensible offensive force who should
challenge for All-ACC honors. With Currie hurting, Jess has really picked
up the scoring slack. Duke has found some new ways to get her open, with
that high post screen and pass-back working extremely well. Foley is also
finding ways to get the foul line, driving to the basket with much greater
success. While Jess had the ball in her hands quite a bit in this game,
she looked to score more than distribute. She hunted her shot well,
sinking jumpers from the left and right wing, as well as a couple in the
corner. Foley forced a held ball and generally made things tough for
Tech's guards. If she can keep up her offensive contributions, Duke is
suddenly in very good shape down the stretch.

** Smith: Coach G has changed the way she's using Nish of late, and the
alteration has been good for both Smith and the team. While Nish is a
decent ballhandler and has a good eye for finding gaps in the halfcourt
(though she does force passes into double-teams too much), she does have a
tendency to throw lazy cross-court passes at times. Those passes lead to
easy scores for the other team and can build momentum. So instead of
having Nish bring the ball up, Coach G is relying more and more on Foley &
Currie. Both of those players have greatly improved their handles this
year, and also are solid passers. What this has done for Nish is allowed
her to attack when she gets the ball in the halfcourt, or set her up to
make some good decisions passing the ball. This all points to the fact
that Nish isn't really a true point guard, but rather a combo guard who
can handle the ball and pass. Ideally, she is most effective as a passing
two guard, much like Alana Beard. The Tech game was a good example of how
effective she can be when she's comfortable. Nish is one of Duke's best
finishers, and she had 3 transition scores in this game to go along with a
three. Despite the fact that she didn't handle the ball as much as usual,
she still came up with 4 assists against just 1 turnover--good
decision-making all-around. Despite all her travails at point, Nish will
likely soon smash Lindsey Harding's freshman assist record.

** Kurz: Given Tech's defense, I thought that Laura would get some good
looks at the basket, and she did. She nailed 2 threes, one in the first
half when it was really needed. But Laura also did a credible job on
defense and grabbed three boards. She earned her 22 minutes, with her
size causing some matchup problems.

** Whitley: The Atlanta native played her final road game in front of
family and friends, and went out in style. Her bank shot in the first
half broke a Duke drought, while her play in the second half helped put
Tech away. Her scoring down the stretch was impressive, and it was great
to see her as a first option and also running the court a bit.

** Black: While Chante didn't quite duplicate her ultra-dominant showing
against Clemson, it was her second-half rebounding that helped put the
Jackets away for good. That included an offensive rebound after a Whitley
missed free throw that resulted in a free throw for Chante, and ran a
bunch of time off the clock. Chante is steadily moving up the freshman
charts in rebounds and blocks, and might challenge Chris Moreland for the
freshman record in boards.