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Duke Sends Tennessee Packing

Duke 75, Tennessee 53. January 23, 2006. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Ultimately, this game has little real significance in the short term. Yes,
Duke goes back to #1 in the country as a result, which is nice but doesn't mean
much. Having 2 wins over top ten teams certainly helps come tournament time,
when seeding is a factor. But Duke still has lots of ACC games to play,
including 2 tilts with UNC and a return bout with Maryland. Still, this game
may have long-term effects for the program. It was a win in Cameron over the
#1 team in the country, in front of a full house of enthusiastic fans. Duke
lost matchups against UConn in 2003 and Tennessee in 2004 in similar scenarios,
and it seemed to diminish their status among casual fans. Even when Duke was
beating UNC like a drum and taking out plenty of established, top 20 teams, all
Joe Fan knew was that Duke couldn't beat UT or UConn at home. Now Joe Fan saw
Duke blow the top team in the country off their court with a beautiful display
of team basketball.

Tennessee had beaten 7 ranked opponents, including top ten teams in Maryland
and UConn. Behind experienced guard Shanna Zolman and game-changing frosh
Candace Parker, the Lady Vols averaged 82 ppg. Still, they had some close
calls and coach Pat Summitt was worried about the team's defense. On Duke's
end, the team had just come off a 4 game road trip that was ragged at best and
a tough win over NC State. After a fairly easy December slate, the team was
getting tested in January. Still, folks like
Nancy Lieberman picked the Lady Vols to win.

Tennessee came in with a deep frontcourt and thin backcourt. Duke's backcourt
depth would prove to be a factor, and they were able to play Tennessee's front
court fairly evenly (Parker, Anosike and Fuller combined for 29 points on 13-22
shooting with 13 rebounds and 9 turnovers; Bales, Williams & Black had 20 points
on 11-16 shooting with 17 rebounds and 7 turnovers). Both teams played matchup
zone variations trying to clog up the middle and shut off passing lanes into
the post, while aggressively jamming shooters. Duke had Wanisha Smith guard
Zolman, with Jess Foley and Abby Waner taking turns as well, while Lindsey
Harding was assigned to Alexis Hornbuckle. The upside to Hornbuckle and Parker
selecting Tennessee over Duke (Coach G wanted both badly) was that she was quite
familiar with their strengths and weaknesses, and how to attack them.

Hornbuckle has extraordinary quickness, but is a mediocre shooter. That's
especially true when she shoots off the dribble. Of course, Tennessee doesn't
have a true point guard on their roster thanks to Sade Wiley-Gatewood
transferring to Maryland a few weeks ago, a dilemma that Duke found themselves
in a year ago. Hornbuckle is also so used to being quicker than everyone else
that she sometimes has trouble against similarly-quick players, and Duke was
able to exploit this. Meanwhile, Parker is nearly impossible to guard. I
thought Duke might force her to take jumpers, but Parker didn't bite and
instead attacked Duke off the dribble. That approach worked to a degree, but
it also led to some turnovers and tough shots taken. In Duke's zone, Monique
Currie was assigned to shadow Sidney Spencer, but knowing that Spencer was only
a threat as a spot-up shooter, was able to cheat into the post or onto the
perimeter when needed.

The crowd was at a fever pitch when the game began and Duke responded early
with a Currie 18' jumper and a Williams basket for a 4-2 lead. Hornbuckle
buried a jumper in Harding's face and I was worried that it could be a very
long game if that continued. The Lady Vols took the lead on a Spencer three
and held it for the next six minutes or so. Currie missed a couple of shots
but Harding made it 7-6 on a drive and 9-8 on a jumper. Tennessee kept up the
pressure but botched a few opportunities to go up by even more, thanks to some
missed free throws and a couple of wide-open misses by Zolman. Stil, they were
up 12-8 with about twelve minutes left in the half, as Duke simply couldn't get
anything going.

The problem was that Duke was trying to score in conventional ways against
Tennessee's defense. The middle was too clogged up and there wasn't enough
motion to force Tennessee's bigs to move a bit. Currie was simply trying too
hard. Duke finally broke a two minute drought when Mistie Williams had a
stickback. Chante Black entered the game and brought up the team's energy
level with 2 quick scores to tie the game. Coach G continued to mine her bench
for scoring when Jess Foley sank a three that gave Duke the lead and sent the
crowd into a frenzy.

Duke took that energy and gave themselves a little breathing room with a 6-0
run. Smith was drifting along the three point line and then decided to pop a
shot after hesitating the whole game, and it splashed in for 3. Currie finally
shook off her defenders for a baseline drive and hit a free throw as well. Then
Duke went into a four minute lull without scoring. Mercifully, Tennessee could
only score 6 points during that period, most of them from Parker. Finally,
Smith found Abby Waner on a cut, a pass the team had been looking for the whole
time, and Duke led 25-21. That really fired up the team, and Currie went back
to work with a turnaround jumper and a free throw. Harding finished off the
half with 2 free throws, but Parker nearly scored at the buzzer. She was
yelling at the refs to call a foul, but they were letting them play and
allowing a lot of contact underneath the basket. Parker had 10 points at the
half but was still frustrated, getting called for a charge and turning the ball
over 4 times. he had nearly half the team's 23 points. Meanwhile, Duke's bench
contributed 9 points, Currie had 8 and Harding 6.

I noted in my pregame notes that the truest indicator of what would determine
the outcome would be the rebound/turnover differential. In the first half,
Duke outrebounded Tennessee by 1 and had 3 fewer turnovers, giving them a solid
+4. As long as Duke continued both trends in the second half, their base
defense would be solid enough to prevent a big Lady Vol run.

Tennessee began the half with a quick score, but Duke responded with a 9-2 run
to take control. The Devils spread the floor, with everyone required to either
cut, set a screen or face up for a jumper. Tennessee's players later admitted
that they were so focused on individual defensive matchups that they reacted
poorly to this tactic, and never rotated quickly enough to stop Duke's precise
passing. It began with Williams out on the high post throwing it into Smith
for a layup. Bales then posted up a Tennessee player who was bodying her up
aggressively. Ali nonchalantly threw a reverse bounce pass to a cutting
Williams, who baffled her defender for an easy layup. Smith then hit Currie
for a huge three, another trey that really excited the crowd. Nish then went
over the top to find Williams for another score. Four minutes into the half,
Duke led 39-27.

The next ten minutes of the game were spent incrementally boosting the lead
and fending off a Tennessee comeback. Harding scored 4 straight points and
then nailed Waner for a three that made the margin 15. Bales repeated her
post-up-and-pass player from earlier, this time with Harding cutting in for the
score. Every time Tennessee scored, Duke had an answer. Foley and Waner hit 2
more jumpers to make it 53-35 with ten minutes to go, and Tennessee started to
get desperate. Spencer hit an open three and the Lady Vols got a stop to
possibly cut it to 13. Instead, Smith stole the ball and fed it to Williams
for a runout. Spencer hit another three, but Waner pulled up and nailed a
three of her own to answer. An inside score was matched by Foley hitting a
jumper, and a Parker three was met not just with a Duke basket, but a 13-0 run.

There were 2 big highlights in the run: the first was Lindsey Harding
attacking Zolman, forcing the ball loose, zooming downcourt and scoring over
Parker (who has an 8 inch height advantage!) for the basket and the foul. That
put Duke up by 21 and the Lady Vols were cooked. The Devils stayed aggressive,
with Currie nailing a jumper. The other highlight came at the end of the run.
Black came up with a steal and started a break. She passed to Waner, who passed
to Currie, who passed back to Black to finish what she started. Summitt waved
the white flag after that and put in her subs, who managed to score a few
points at the end as the Vols at least cracked 50 points. Still, too little,
too late.

Duke dominated the second half, shooting 64% (and they were over 70% for a
while!). For the game, they were +7 on the boards and +5 on turnovers, for an
impressive +12 margin. I thought a plus 3 or 4 would signal a close win, and
that double-digit margin was quite indicative of how much of a blowout the game
turned into. Harding wound up with an astounding 8 steals. Zolman wound up
with a donut on 0-7 shooting, and didn't have a single assist or rebound
either. Hornbuckle essentially had no help as wave after wave of fresh Duke
guards came into the game to harrass them. Coach G's substitution strategy was
masterful here, knowing just when to rest a player and what combination of
players was working well. The guard trio of Smith, Foley and Waner combined
for 25 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals and 6 turnovers. Tennessee had
enough to worry about with Currie and Harding; the fact that this other trio
burned them pushed Duke over the top.

Despite the win, there's work to do. The Devils have to go to Clemson on
Thursday, with Littlejohn being unfamiliar to the frosh and sophs on the team.
Clemson is still rebuilding, but they've won a couple of ACC games and will be
loose for this one. The big confrontation will then be with UNC on Sunday,
which has risen to #2 in the country. That will be another sold-out game and
another TV spotlight. Hopefully, Duke can do the same for the Maryland rematch
next month.


** Bales: Ali's stat line was deceiving. 0-2 from the floor with 3
rebounds doesn't tell the tale of all that she did. Her mere presence
forced Tennessee center Nicky Anosike to change a number of her shots, and
even Parker was halted a couple of times. In the second half, Ali did an
especially nice job of clogging up the lane while avoiding foul trouble,
blocking a shot while continuing to frustrate Anosike. But it was her
court vision that stood out in this game. Early in the second half, after
UT cut the lead to 5, she posted up and bounced a perfect pass to a
cutting Williams for a score. Later, she did exactly the same thing for a
cutting Harding, once again answering a Tennessee basket. Tennessee's
game plan took Duke out of setting up the posts with conventional passes,
but the Devils and Ali in particular responded nicely to that tactic.

** Williams: Mistie has trouble with Tennessee in her first three meetings with
the Lady Vols, but broke through last year with 14 points and 10 rebounds. This
year, she had the task of guarding Parker. While Parker boasted in-game that
she could score on Mistie all day long, Williams did exactly what she was
supposed to do: slow Parker down and force her to take tough shots and make
mistakes. The officials weren't calling much inside, which allowed Mistie to
get physical and body up Parker. Candace made her look silly at times with
some of her jaw-dropping footwork, but Mistie also forced her into turnovers
and short-armed shots. Offensively, Mistie did just enough so that Tennessee
had to guard her. She made a statement with a quick score at the beginning of
the game and a stickback: you have to guard me or I will hurt you. In the
second half, Mistie was absolutely superb as Duke spread the floor. She found
Smith inside on a lob, scored on a pass from Bales as she cut to the basket,
then finished a lob from Smith. Later on, she finished a runout, relocated to
Foley for a jumper, and dished inside to Black. This is Duke's best passing
team ever, and it's not just the guards who are doing it. Seven players have
at least 20 assists this season, and Mistie is averaging nearly 2 a game. Not
bad for a player who wasn't much of a passer when she came into the program.

** Currie: I had a feeling that Mo wouldn't dominate in this game. What
I was hoping for was a relatively steady performance with a few clutch
shots down the stretch. As it turns out, those potential clutch shots weren't
needed. Tennessee through the kitchen sink at Monique, not wanting a repeat of
last year in Knoxville, when Mo single-handedly killed the Lady Vols in the
game's waning minutes. At first, Mo tried to force thing too much: taking
off-balance jumpers, driving into traffic unsuccessfully trying to draw fouls
and getting her shot sent back. Coach G actually had to pull her from the game
a few times in order to get her to calm down. This worked, because Mo wound up
scoring 6 of her 8 first half points in the last eight minutes of the half.
That included a slithering baseline drive and a turnaround jumper with her
right hand. Mo only took 2 attempts in the second half, but both were big: the
first was a huge three that put Duke up by 10, and the second was a 15' jumper
with 4:40 left that removed any doubt as to the game's outcome. Another huge
play came when she snuck in for an offensive rebound when Williams missed the
front end of a one-and-one. The fact that Tennessee expended so much energy
keeping track of her was a huge help for the rest of her teammates, who got
plenty of open looks. Defensively, Mo was guarding Spencer, who only got a few
open looks at the basket. Like the rest of her teammates, Mo did not have a
dominant scoring game, but was rather a part of excellent team balance.

** Smith: Nish did a fine job on defense, shadowing both Zolman and
Hornbuckle. While she wasn't able to successfully drive to the hoop, she
sank a huge three in the first half and hit both Williams and A.Waner for
scores. In the second half, she carved up Tennessee with her passing.
She found Currie for a three, lobbed to Williams for a basket, and
countered a Tennessee score with a steal and pass to Mistie for another
basket. Smith wound up leading the team in assists with 6 in just 21
minutes of playing time and grabbed an impressive 5 rebounds. Like most
of her teammates, not an individually dominant performance. But when
measured as part of the team's performance, she filled her role perfectly.

** Harding: Lindsey was magnificent in this game, which was one of her
best-ever games. She did miss several shots (including a layup, and another
drive that was rejected) and had a couple of bad turnovers, but that doesn't
diminish what she did at both ends. She tortured Hornbuckle and Zolman at the
defensive end, limiting Hornbuckle on offense and forcing 6 turnovers. The
game's signature play came when she stripped Zolman and zoomed downcourt for a
three point play over Parker. In the first half, she did score on a drive, a
15' jumper and 2 big free throws with 3 seconds left in the half. While that
was a good first half, the best was yet to come. She hit 2 free throws, nailed
a baseline jumper, found Waner for a three, finished a cut, found Waner on
another jumper and then had that steal from Zolman. Harding was the clear
difference-maker here, not only scoring and defending but making things easier
for her teammates. That's the true definition of a point guard, and Lindsey's
stock is steadily rising in WNBA circles as a result.

** Black: Chante once again had a quick impact on the game off the bench. When
Bales went out with quick fouls, Chante stepped in and had 2 quick scores. Both
were beautiful: a dropstep and a post-up inside for baskets. Her length and
quickness bothered Tennessee as she freelanced defensively in the frontcourt.
Down the stretch, she had a stickback and finished 2 passes in the game-sealing
13-0 run. Black always plays defense and rebounds, but her newfound
aggressiveness and consistency at the offensive end seems to be giving her even
more fuel at the defensive end. She's lost the timidity in her body language
and is calling for the ball more and more. The fact that she was quicker than
any of Tennessee's bigs (with the exception of Parker, and they're about even)
also boosted her confidence, because she was wheeling in and around them with
ease. Of course, doing the same against UNC's posts will be another thing, but
this time Chante seems ready for the challenge.

** A.Waner: This was a very important game for Abby. In some of the
other big showdowns this season, Abby has looked tentative and nervous.
The athleticism and intensity of ACC foes came as a bit of a shock for a
player trying to adjust to play at this level. It led to a shooting
slump, which led to her being asked to come off the bench. In a testament
to her willingness to be a team player, she has not sulked in this role.
She's been as enthusiastic as ever, and that enthusiasm with the reduced
pressure of being a reserve has helped to revive her game. She was still
a bit jittery in the first first half of this game. She did dish to
Harding for a score, but also turned the ball over. Later in the half,
Smith found her on a cut to break a long scoring drought for the Devils.
That both fired up Nish and seemed to relax Abby. She hustled to grab a
long Tennessee rebound and called timeout to save it. When she came off
the bench in the second half, she was ready to do some damage. She nailed a
three from a Harding pass, sank a 19' jumper and then popped a three off
the dribble to answer a Spencer three. That came with about eight minutes
left, and pretty much let the Lady Vols know that they had no chance of
coming back.

** Foley: Coach G brought Jess in at around the ten minute mark, when she
sensed that the team needed a cooler head in the game. She nailed a
corner three that gave Duke its first lead. In the second half, she
played solid defense (her size allowed her shadow multiple players) and
hit a monster three from the "UConn spot" to push Duke's lead to 16, and
later sank a baseline jumper to answer a Tennessee basket. Foley did a
nice job sharing minutes with A.Waner and Smith, and that combo of guards
did a fantastic job wearing down and frustrating Tennessee's backcourt.
Coach G likes to insert Foley into the game when the team needs to be
calmed a bit (just as bringing in Abby helps increase the energy level),
and Jess played that role to a T.

** Kurz: Laura played a few minutes in the first half as Coach G was
trying to buy some time for Bales and Black (two fouls apiece). She was
in the unfortunate position of having to guard Parker for a couple of
minutes. Laura may not have scratched statistically, but her presence did
at least buy time for her teammates. I was hoping that Duke would set her
up for a three, but Tennessee had her scouted well.

** Gay: Carrem entered the game with four minutes left, when the game was
well in hand. She responded quite nicely, scoring on a pass from
Williams. Gay also played solid defense (coming up with a loose ball) and
showed no ill effects from going down against NC State. Her shoulder will
prevent her from showing the full range of what she can do as an athlete
this season, but her minutes were quite solid and productive against
quality players.

** E.Waner: Em got on the court at the end, with no notable action.

** Cameron Craziness: It was a special night in Cameron. In addition to
the place being packed (though a quarter of it was orange), there were
plenty of famous faces. For Tennessee, Chamique Holdsclaw & Nikki McCray
were sitting behind their bench. For Duke, Kira Orr, Payton Black and
Peppi Browne were sitting behind their bench. Muggsy Bogues was in the
house, scouting for the Charlotte Sting. Of course, there were also more
students here than in quite some time, with 750 of them packed into one
section. That created an intimidating advantage. Speaking of which,
Tennessee guard Alexis Hornbuckle was arrested for shoplifting at Wal-Mart
as a senior in high school (it was apparently some kind of senior prank).
The 6th Man responded by holding up Wal-Mart bags and chanting "rollback
prices" when she was at the foul line. Result: 0-4 from the line.