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Duke Cancels Premier Players

Duke 96, Premier Players 47. November 9, 2006. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke slapped around a team of ex-college players, dominating them on the boards
and turning them over repeatedly. The Devils did a good job of zeroing in on
their top scoring threats. That included a trio of ex-Carolina players: Kenya
McBee, Nikki Bell, and gut-punchin' Leah Metcalf. That troika combined for
just 18 points on 8-26 shooting and 13 turnovers. Meanwhile, Duke's veteran
players all did well, with Alison Bales, Wanisha Smith, Lindsey Harding and
Abby Waner all racking up double figures. Bales had a double-double with 16
and 10, overpowering her opponents with her size and tenaciousness.

Coach G was pleased with her team's energy and the fact that they shared the
ball well. She was especially happy with the team's rebounding and that they
took advantage of second-chance points (20-2 margin). It was clear that
everyone's ready for real games to begin after playing a squad that, while
talented, was mostly disinterested in concepts such as defense and shot
selection. The Premier Players have been on the road for awhile now, and when
it was clear early on that they had no chance against Duke, their philosophy
became shoot first and ask questions later.

The Devils put up a lot of points without shooting well for the second straight
game. Duke was under the break-even mark of 33% shooting threes, getting just
31.6. Fortunately, Bales came to play and dominated 6-4 Ebony Tanner in the
early going. She had 2 stickbacks and finished on a high-low in the games
first three minutes, putting Duke up 13-4. After a three by McBee, Harding
sank a jumper from the elbow, kick-starting an 8-0 run. That run was fueled by
defense, as Bales blocked a shot, Waner pilfered a pass and the Harding-Waner
tandem ran the floor. When frosh Joy Cheek came into the game, she immediately
blew by McBee, putting the ball on the deck and smoothly driving in for a layup.

After the Premier Players closed within 24-13, the Devils went on a 14-0 run to
blow the game wide open. Smith and Bridgette Mitchell did some nice work here,
with Nish scoring twice on drives and generating another score after a steal.
Mitchell got a stickback and also got fouled going up, sinking both shots.
That put Duke up 38-13 with nine minutes left in the half. That lead was 41-18
a few minutes later, but the Devils turned it on for another 8-0 run. Cheek got
a couple of stickbacks and Smith went to the line and threw a pretty pass to
Mitchell for a fast break finish.

Duke used all ten available players in the first half and tried a lot of
different defenses. While the PP missed a lot of shots, many of them were
wide-open. The younger players for Duke were slow to recover after Metcalf
would penetrate-and-pitch and Duke was fortuante that more shots didn't go in.
On the other hand, the Devils unleashed a lethal halfcourt trap that forced a
number of turnovers. While Harding triggered the traps, she was often joined
by Brittany Mitch, whose height and length made her extremely effective in
obscuring the vision of her opponents. Duke led by 30 at the half, had a +25
edge on the boards (and +14 on the offensive boards) and forced 17 turnovers.
The Devils were only 2-11 from three and coughed it up 12 times. Impressively,
the Devils had a 17-0 edge in second-chance points.

In the second half, the players cut the lead to under 30 before the Devils went
on a 16-2 run to end any suspense. Bales hit a short jumper to trigger it,
which was important because Duke had missed several shots leading up to that
point. Duke forced a number of turnovers and the result was lots of fast break
baskets. The most impressive was one from Keturah Jackson to Mitchell, where KJ
threaded the needle in traffic and on the run, and Mitchell caught the pass in
stride for the score. Duke pushed the lead up to 55 points before guard Katie
Alsdurf hit some late three.

When Bales was in the game, the Players had no chance. Ali was dominant at both
ends, using her feet to get good position. The Devils used a lot of zone and
tried a lot of different player combinations. It was interesting to see them
go small, with a Gay/Mitch/Mitchell/Smith/Waner lineup running all over the
place for a few possessions. The Devils wound up forcing 33 turnovers,
converting them into 40 points. After those early turnovers, Duke took better
care of the ball in the second half, only getting 7 more miscues. Coach G
noted that a final starting lineup isn't quite ready yet. That has to take
Black into consideration, of course, but Carrem Gay struggled in this game and
there are others who could step in right now for her. Coach G did note that
Chante finally was able to practice a bit today, and that she might get some
minutes in Saturday's opener.

Player-by-Player:

** Bales: A dominant showing for Ali, who took just 1 bad shot. Her game was
all about efficiency, even if she did have to remind her teammates to get her
the ball from time to time. She scored mostly inside, with stickbacks and
power-ups, but she also hit a couple of short jumpers as well. Bales only had
7 official attempts, short of her goal of 10 per game, but she did have 6 free
throw tries. Bales had 4 blocks that she kept in play, including a fingertip
block on Metcalf, who was trying to loft a shot over her. Going up against a
couple of players with decent size and strength, Ali stayed with them and
wouldn't bite on headfakes. Bales realizes that all she has to do is stand her
ground and not allow opponents to wheel by her and use the rim itself as another
defender in forcing bad shots. She also had a couple of nice passes to cutting
players, using her floor vision.

** Gay: Carrem struggled on offense, going just 1-7. Again, it was a matter of
her getting great position but not being able to finish with contact. Despite
that, she still attacked the boards and had 10 rebounds, including a game-high
5 offensive rebounds. Carrem also had some trouble on defense against taller
opponents; the fear that Bales struck into the opposition was noticeably absent
when she was playing in the middle. Again, there's not much Carrem can do to
get stronger at this point; she just needs to keep practicing her ability to
score when pushed. I'll be curious to see if she retains her starting job on
Saturday.

** Smith: An excellent, aggressive game from Nish. What's interesting is that
while she was paying attention to her own shots, she still found plenty of time
to set up her teammates as well. In fact, she led the team with 5 assists.
Several were spectacular, including an open court steal and behind-the-back
pass to Mitchell for a score, and a look-away to Joy Cheek. I loved the fact
that all of her made field goals came on drives, not to mention that she took a
lot of shots to her chops on the way to the basket but kept coming. Nish meshed
nicely with Harding and Waner, sometimes acting as a catalyst and other times
aggressively looking to score. About the only thing that wasn't dropping was
her jumper, though she wasn't looking to take it all that often.

** A.Waner: A solid all-around performance for Abby, who hit a couple of threes,
got a stickback, and finished a couple of fast breaks. Most impressive was the
way she rebounded, with 7 for the game and 3 offensive. Waner was aggressive
but slightly restrained, with few mistakes. It's still going to take her a
little while to fully mesh with the other guards as starters, but the overall
efficiency in her game was nice to see.

** Harding: Lindsey was extremely aggressive on offense, to the point where she
took a few off-balance shots. She sank a three on Duke's first possession and
nailed a couple of other short jumpers. Harding harrasssed Metcalf into a
miserable game and was the trigger on all of Duke's traps. It was nice to see
her hunt her shot, but a bit more discretion in the kinds of shots to take
would have been advisable. I think Lindsey is still trying to find her way a
bit on offense, displaying some rust after an inactive summer. Defensively,
she's in mid-season form, taking a charge on the game's first possession.

** Jackson: KJ is a nice surprise in the early going, establishing herself as an
energy player who jumps passing lanes, gets tips and steals, and generally
throws herself all over the floor. While clearly not in top physical form,
that hasn't slowed down her effort nor her obvious joy for the game. KJ
obviously missed competing last season, and while she's still finding her way
at both ends at times, she's become a difference-maker. Jackson missed several
jumpers, but she finished a couple of fast breaks and got a stickback. KJ also
rebounded well, picked up 3 steals and moved the ball nicely. It's clear that
she's skilled and versatile, but just needs to continue to adjust to her
teammates. She's definitely made a strong case so far to be included in the
rotation.

** Mitch: Offensively, this was a nightmarish game for Brittany. After missing
her first 2 shots (one of them an airball), she got even tighter from the
floor. Mitch clearly needed to see the ball go through the hoop, and it just
wasn't happening here. That said, she was quite impressive on defense. In
addition to picking up 4 clean steals, she forced several more turnovers thanks
to her picking up traps and forcing her opponent to throw wild passes.
Hopefully Mitch will get another opportunity to show what she can do and make
the most of it.

** Cheek: I've fallen in love with Cheek's game, mostly because she's a terrific
combination of power and brains. Her approach to the game is quite cerebral,
clearly thinking several plays ahead when she's on the floor. The result is
her ability to come out of seemingly nowhere to get stickbacks or be in perfect
position to receive the ball. Driving to the basket was an unexpected bonus, as
was the nice form on her mid-range jumper. Only one of her jumpers actually
dropped (and that one banked in hard), but it's obvious that this is a weapon
that will make her much more effective. Joy's conditioning is clearly
improving, as she went long stretches in this game without looking tired.
Still, despite her natural quickness and understanding of defensive
positioning, a really quick forward is going to be able to take advantage of
her. I'm eager to see her match up against a top-notch post player to see how
she reacts. There's no question that if Joy can continue to hold her own on
defense, she will play many minutes because she can do things no one else on
the team can.

** E.Waner: This was another tough shooting game for Em, but she did handle the
ball well. Her shots simply weren't dropping from outside, and an awkward
shook she tried after picking up an offensive rebound didn't come close to
going in. Still, she had assists to her sister for a three and to Jackson on
the break. Like Mitch, she's pressing a bit too much out there.

** Mitchell: Bridgette wisely kept it simple out there: attack the basket,
finish breaks, catch the ball and hold on to it. Like Cheek, she's a weapon
out there, and she has yet to try anything too fancy. Mitchell is also an
excellent rebounder, with surprising strength given her thin frame. Like
Cheek, she made a bad decision or two with a pass, but mostly played within
herself and used her quickness & aggressiveness to rack up points and rebounds.
I'm eager to see both of them take on tougher opponents to see how they'll
react, because both seem quite mature and ready to contribute right now. We'll
see how that goes as the season progresses.