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Duke Demolishes Miami

Duke 95, Miami 61. February 24, 2005. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

There were two big differences in Duke's win over Miami in Cameron and
the more difficult time they had in Coral Gables. The first is that Duke
only turned the ball over 13 times in this game, as opposed to the 21
miscues in South Florida. Secondly, Duke took advantage of their free
throw opportunities, nailing 21 of 27 freebies for 78%, as opposed to
13-26 on the road. Combine that with a crisply-run offense that balanced
passes to the post, shots from the three point line, and attacks off the
dribble, and the 'canes stood no chance. Indeed, even with the ACC's
leading scorer in Tamara James, Miami dug a huge hole early and simply
couldn't stop Duke long enough to make a concerted run.

Miami isn't led by a Big Two, they're led by an Only Two--James and
top-notch point guard Yalonda McCormick. That duo scored 46 of Miami's 61
points, good for 75% of that total. McCormick shot well (9-14), but was
forced into 9 turnovers. The Devils forced 15 steals and 22 total
turnovers for the 'canes, which led to lots of transition opportunities.
James had 26 points on 7-17 shooting and 11 trips to the foul line, but
scored many of her points when the game was quite out of reach. Miami
coach Ferne Labati kept her in for 37 minutes despite considerable foul
trouble. James' 4 fouls (2 of them in the first half) explain to some
extent why Miami's post defense was so incredibly soft--James was simply
trying to stay in the game any way she could.

The Devils set the tone early, with Monique Currie showing early on that
she had finally adjusted to the orthotic device in her shoe and had fully
recovered from the flu. Duke ran off the first 10 points of the game,
with Currie scoring twice and Wanisha Smith nailing a three. Mistie
Williams posted up for the first of many scores to make it 10-0. After a
Miami score, Mo found Ali Bales for a score inside and then drove to the
hoop in transition to make it 14-2 just five minutes into the contest.
Another Miami score was met by Wynter Whitley nailing a 17' jumper on a
pass from Currie and 2 Smith free throws.

Miami appeared as though they were going to make it a game, but Duke
struck hard from the perimeter. Jess Foley, Laura Kurz and Smith all hit
threes in a two minute span, pushing Duke's lead up to 29-10 with ten
minutes to go. Whitley had 2 assists in moving the ball inside-out to set
up some open shots. The next seven minutes belong to Mistie, as she
tortured Miami defenders Imani Dhahabu and Amy Audibert. After a Miami
score, Mistie posted up on a Kurz feed for a score. Then Bales fed her
from the high post after another Miami score. Foley hit a three, but a
Smith steal resulted in a Williams finish. Nish found her under the
basket again, where she finished with a nifty up-and-under move. Miami
scored 4 in a row, but Mistie scored again wheeling around on one leg,
posted up again for a score, then tapped a gorgeous touch pass to Chante
Black for a score that made it 46-21 with two minutes to go in the half.

What is remarkable about Mistie's run is that it came when Currie had
been pulled from the game after picking up her third foul with about eight
minutes to go in the half. Granted, Duke was up by 17 points at the time,
but Williams made sure not only to preserve that lead, but to extend it.
Only some untimely turnovers late in the half allowed Miami to shave 5
points from the lead, but the Devils still had a healthy 46-26 advantage.
Duke shot 62% in the half, were +11 on the boards, hit 5 threes and had an
astounding 16 assists on 18 field goals made. James and McCormick had 20
of Miami's 26 points.

Miami scored first in the second half, bringing the lead down to 18.
Bales scored on a tip-in, the first of 15 straight points for Duke. This
run gave Duke a 31 point lead and all but ended the game. Miami got very
sloppy here as Duke was slapping balls away for turnovers. Williams even
had a couple of extremely slow "fast breaks" after open court steals that
she took in for layups. A great play came when Currie was dribbling, lost
her balance (losing one defender), kept the dribble alive and regained her
balance driving to the hoop, showed the ball to the last defender
(freezing her), and then driving in for a score. Soon after that, Dhahabu
grabbed a rebound for Miami after a Williams missed foul shot. Currie got
right up in her face and Dhahabu swung her elbow and Currie went down.
The refs called an offensive foul (no question) but Miami coach Labati had
a meltdown, sprinting all the way across the court (in front of Duke's
bench!) to scream at the official. Naturally, that earned her a
technical. Currie sank both, Duke got the ball back and Williams drove on
the wing (!), pulled up and sank a pretty 10' jumper. At that point, I
encouraged her to start taking threes, because it seemed clear that she
couldn't miss. That put Duke up 61-28 with a long sixteen minutes to go
in the half.

It was time to call in some of the reserves. First, Currie wanted to
dish out a little pain of her own. She scored on a fast break, hit 2 free
throws, and then had back-to-back 15' jumpers. Play got a bit ragged
after that as Coach G called off the dogs. Duke's last big run was an
11-2 skein that put Duke up 81-40 with ten minutes left. Miami outscored
Duke 21-14 down the stretch, but Coach G had pulled Williams and Currie
and started to run some time off the clock. Smith did set up a nice fast
break score to Whitley with around three minutes left, in response to some
frustrations in the half court.

The Devils shot 57% for the game and held Miami to 37%. Duke outplayed
them in every phase of the game. Without a scorer like James around, the
final result could have been much worse. The game clinched a first place
tie for the ACC title, though the top seed in the ACC tournament is still
up for grabs. With another #1 seed potentially on the line, Duke does not
want any more losses, especially to UNC. While Miami was not a great foe,
they had played quite well of late, pulling some near-upsets. So it was
good to see Duke really clicking as a unit, setting up the rematch against
the hated Heels.

** Negatives:

1. Fouls. The second half was especially sloppy. Duke held Miami to just
1 free throw attempt in the first half, but gave up 17 in the second half.
Duke put Miami in the bonus rather quickly, and half the team picked up at
least 3 fouls.

2. End of half execution. Duke had a 25 point lead late in the first
half, but turned the ball over several times in the last couple of minutes
of the half. The 'canes were able to shave 5 points off that lead and
take a little momentum with them into the half. The Devils simply got a
bit too anxious and didn't react well to pressure.

** Positives:

1. Balance. Offensively, it was beautiful to see Duke's potential fully
tapped. Williams showed off her full range of moves in the post, the
guards were spraying jumpers from all over the court, the slashers were
getting to the line, and the whole team was remarkably unselfish. It
won't always be this easy, but it's nice to see it happen after struggling
for a few weeks. Every Duke player had at least 1 assist.

2. Post defense. Don't be fooled by the fact that Duke only had 3 blocks.
The tandem of Bales and Black bothered and altered at least a half dozen
shots. They forced James in particular to push a bit more on her shot
posting up than she would have liked. Black often cheated over to double
James when she saw her going up for a shot, and used her height and
leaping ability to force misses.

3. Defensive pressure. The post players did a great job denying the ball
and deflecting passes. The guards put nice pressure on the ball. The
result was 15 steals and 27 points off turnovers.


** Bales: Another solid, but unspectacular, game for Ali. The best
development was seeing her call for the ball in the second half, resulting
in an easy score. Her biggest play was a tap-in at the beginning of the
second half that snapped an 8-0 Miami run and triggered a 15-0 run for
Duke. Bales also had assists to Williams inside and Foley for three.

** Williams: Mistie's performance can be described by using a single
word, one not often used in describing her game: smooth. There was an
elegance and grace that accompanied her post moves that was unusual.
Mistie is known for being a banger and sometimes flinging up wild shots.
Not in this game--she got good position down low, caught passes cleanly
and went up in one motion to the basket, shielding the ball from the
defender with her body. That smoothness extended to the foul line, where
she was an impressive 5-6. Defensively, she used her power to bump James
away from the basket, helping to prevent easy scores. More importantly,
Mistie was quick on her feet in chasing down loose balls and tricky
rebounds. There were also 3 steals and another turnover forced with a
five-second call. In terms of effort, energy and results, this was
clearly her best game of the year, as she tied her career high with 23 points.

** Currie: It was obvious that the Currie who carried Duke to wins over
Maryland and NC State was back. She was aggressive in attacking the
basket and smooth with her jumper. Mo clearly had a thing or two to prove
after a rough outing in Miami (where she hurt her foot). She responded
with aggressive defense, strong rebounding and unselfishness with the
ball. She fed Bales twice for scores, hit Whitley for a jumper and Kurz
on a cut. Mo finally surpassed Kira Orr on Duke's all-time scoring list
and became the seventh player to pass the 1400 point margin with 1406. Mo
also tied Rochelle Parent for 12 on the all-time rebounding list with 619.

** Foley: Another superb game for Jess, whose shooting stroke has become
much smoother and more comfortable-looking. Whereas before she seemed to
be heaving shots at the basket, now it looks like she's just flicking them
from her fingers. With her feet also nicely squared up, she's become
deadly from long range again. She was 4-5 in this game and the fifth was
very close to going in. When Currie left the game, in the first half, she
nailed a three right away and played sticky defense, with 3 first half
steals. In the second half, she varied her attack, getting to the free
throw line 6 times while still nailing 2 more threes. One more solid
performance (ie, against UNC) should clinch her presence on one of the
All-ACC squads. Meanwhile, Jess has suddenly become the 6th-leading three
point shooter in Duke history with 129, moving ahead of Iciss Tillis. She
has a legitimate shot at besting Georgia Schweitzer's career mark of 202
next season.

** Smith: Nish only got 2 shots to fall (both threes), but this was one
of her best floor games. She was masterful with 10 assists against 5
turnovers (3 at the end of the first half). Nish in particular threw a
series of perfect lob passes to Williams, getting her the ball in exactly
the right position. Defensively, she helped force several of McCormick's
9 turnovers. Those 10 assists shattered the freshman assist record held
by Lindsey Harding; Nish now has 131. Not bad for a player who isn't a
true point guard. In fact, with that mark of 131, she's already #9 for
single-season assists and has a legitimate chance of moving into the top
5. Smith has truly regained her confidence, and she'll need it in the
rematch against the Heels.

** Black: Chante opened the game with two hideous turnovers, then settled
down to demonstrate what a force she's become at both ends. Her most
amazing play wasn't even a positive one for Duke. When Foley attempted a
three, the ball was still in the cylinder. Black leaped out of nowhere to
tap the ball back in while it was still on the rim--a routine play in
men's basketball, but nearly unheard of in women's. The refs ruled it
offensive goaltending and waved it off--the first time I had ever seen
that happen. Chante continued her aggressive play of late, looking for
her shot more and more. Whenever she saw that she was getting single
coverage, she posted up and used a variety of moves to score. From a
post-up to a short jumper in the lane, she wanted Miami to take her
seriously as an offensive threat. If she could just relax a bit more when
taking free throws, she could easily score in double figures in every
game. Chante's defense on James was excellent, using her mobility to
cover a lot of ground.

** Whitley: While Wynter's trademark has always been defense, it's been
nice to see her contributing more on the offensive end this year. She had
a score in transition and also nailed a 17' jumper. More impressively,
she had 3 assists, finding open shooters for threes. Other than picking
up 4 fouls, she made no errors in this game. Even though she wasn't
needed to do a lot in this game, she still contributed quite a bit, even
though she took fewer shot attempts than anyone else.

** Kurz: Another solid game for Laura, who nailed a couple of treys and
also scored on a cut. As always, she moved quite well without the ball.
Defensively, she came up with a steal and also forced a held ball. With
28 threes, she's 6th all-time on the freshman record list and has a chance
at moving up quite a bit more (the record is 41, set by Jenni Kraft).