clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Few Words On Duke-Tennessee

Right about now is where I'd normally say, "Come on out to Cameron for a big
game!" But I don't have to, since the Duke-Tennessee clash has been sold out
for a couple of weeks now. It's the fifth sellout in Duke history, and I
expect the old lady to be jammed to the rafters for this #1 vs #2 matchup.
Here's what I wrote about the Lady Vols in my preseason analysis:

"Tennessee will be Duke's greatest challenge. They match Duke with size, depth,
shooting, power, and experience. The Vols play great defense, rebound
ferociously and are looking for another national title. Defending Candace
Parker is Duke's main dilemma. I imagine that Duke will use Chante Black and
Monique Currie, and alternate them on her. Black is quick and athletic enough
to keep up with her, while Currie is powerful enough to bump her a bit. Parker
must be kept out of the paint and instead should be forced into taking bad
shots. And she will take bad shots--it all kind of evens out for her during
the course of a game. Duke will need to get by without double-teaming Parker,
because the Lady Vols have so many ways to win. Leaving Shanna Zolman open is
guaranteeing a three. Alexis Hornbuckle is not a great shooter, but Duke has
to be careful not to let her drive. Alex Fuller, Nicky Anosike and Tye'Sha
Fluker can do some dirty work inside.

Ultimately, Duke can win this game if they do what they did last year against
Tennessee: focus on defense and rebounding. I don't think they have anyone who
can stop Currie one-on-one, and as long as Duke concentrates on the little
things (boxing out, valuing possessions), they can boil the game down to a few
possessions at the end. In that scenario, I like Monique Currie's chances."

In most respects, I stand by these statements. Let's get down to the nitty
gritty. The Lady Vols have played their usual brutal schedule, with games
against ranked opponents including Michigan State, Maryland, Texas, Temple,
Notre Dame, UConn and Georgia. Then throw in unranked but fine clubs like
Vanderbilt, Stanford, George Washington and Louisiana Tech, and it's obvious
why Tennessee has the toughest strength of schedule every single year. That
said, while this is a fine Lady Vols club, it has not been an unstoppable
juggernaut. They overcame a double-digit deficit to beat Vandy and only
stopped Maryland by 5. Georgia, UConn and Stanford were all also within single

There's also been a bit of team drama, most notably when highly-touted guard
Sade Wiley-Gatewood decided to bolt the program for Maryland. How much of a
loss this is is debatable. While she's a great player, the team did fine
without her last year when she was hurt, and it was clear that she was not
fitting in well this year. The problem is that this leaves the team a bit thin
at guard.

As a result, Tennessee has relied on six players for its crunch time minutes,
bringing in three others for double-digit minutes when needed. The backcourt
consists of super-quick guard Alexis Hornbuckle, who is filling in at point.
She's doing a fine job of it as well, averaging nearly 4 assists a game and
maintaining close to a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio. Next to her is senior guard
Shanna Zolman, a deadly shooter (44% from three, 96% from the line) who helped
carry the team to victory in Cameron two years ago. Lindsey Harding will have
her hands full with Hornbuckle's quickness and cleverness, and she must be
forced into taking long jumpers, which is not her forte. Zolman is not that
quick or strong, but she is shifty and clever with the ball. The key is never
leaving your hand down when she has the ball, and if she's bodied up, don't let
her fake you into fouling her. If she's open, she's hitting a three.

Duke has the overall advantage in the backcourt, considering depth, talent and
experience. Harding has turned into a star who should be able to disrupt
whomever she's guarding. Coach G may even opt to put her on Zolman and let
Wanisha Smith guard Hornbuckle. Nish is bigger and stronger than Alexis,
though the latter is quicker. The luxury of having Jessica Foley along with
Abby & Emily Waner off the bench to make plays also helps Duke a lot.
Tennessee counters with wing Dominique Redding (a solid all-around player but
certainly not spectacular and Lindsey Moss (a frosh who is a shooting

The frontcourt is another matter. Duke matches up well with Anosike, who is a
lot like Chante Black (without the shotblocking). Tennessee has a lot of
options next to her. There's Sidney Spencer, a big forward who specializes in
shooting threes (54%!) and hustle plays. There's Tye'Sha Fluker, a senior
who's earned a few starts and has produced nicely as a post scorer. They get
the lion's share of the minutes. Off the bench come Sybil Dosty, another big
body who can score and rebound, and Alex Fuller, still trying to find her
footing after sitting out a season with an injury. These are all good players
who could certainly do some damage against Duke, but the Devils can certainly
shut them down.

That leaves Candace Parker, truly a unique force in college basketball. Her
numbers are solid but not spectacular: 14.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2 bpg, 2.5 apg, 2
spg, 55% from the field, 97% from the foul line. While these numbers are
impressive, they don't begin to describe what she can do on the court, even as
a redshirt frosh. Parker can post up anyone and score inside. She can handle
the ball and attack the basket. She can shoot jumpers. She can rebound and
sky for loose balls. She's unselfish and fits into a team context, but is
definitely a go-to player. She can play at 3, 4 and 5 and in some ways is
deadliest as a three. It's obvious why who will guard her must be asked. I'm
guessing that Coach G is going to try to force her as far away from the basket
as possible in an attempt to bait her into taking contested jumpers. Isolating
Hornbuckle and making her take jumpers might not be a bad plan either. Of
course, going right at her on offense in an effort to draw fouls could be a
bold, but risky plan. The easiest way to guard her will be if she's sitting on
the bench.

Of course, Duke must be careful not to focus too much attention on her. The
rest of the Lady Vols are quite capable of beating anyone, thanks to their
defense and rebounding. As I said above, this game will come down to those two
fundamentals. If Duke's frontcourt does not play aggressively, then Duke will
lose. They must at least play Tennessee even, which will allow Currie to doher thing. This game is huge because it's a Player of the Year platform for
both Currie and Parker, with the game nationally televised on ESPN2. If either
leads their team to victory, that will be a big tick mark in their favor in the
eyes of the various committees that decide this sort of thing. Hopefully Duke
will be rested and relaxed enough to handle Tennessee and the excitement of a
big crowd. Here's a link to Coach G's press conference before the game.