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Youth Is Served As Duke Crushes Northeastern

Duke 102, Northeastern 49. November 11, 2006. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

On an afternoon when Duke's 2006 Final Four banner was officially unveiled, it
was two frosh who stole the show in the second half. The scrappy Northeastern
Huskies, under new head coach Daynia La-Force Mann, gave Duke all sorts of
problems in the first half. The Devils looked unfocused on offense and lacked
intensity on defense, especially in transition. Their huge height advantage
(no NE player was over 6-2) was nullified by quick and aggressive double-teams
and switching defenses that Duke didn't react quickly enough to. Northeastern
was also a lot more physical than perhaps Duke expected, and that made it
difficult for Duke to get into a rhythm. Still, Duke's lethargy seemed a bit
baffling, and it took them quite a while to match the intensity presented by
Northeastern. Some of Duke's younger players took awhile to get going on
offense and simply needed to see the ball go in the hoop once or twice before
they relaxed. Once that happened, Duke's superior depth and quickness was way
too much for the Huskies.

Duke's true frosh, Joy Cheek and Bridgette Mitchell, were the first frosh to
earn double-doubles in their first career game since a certain Monique Currie
did it back in 2001. While both frosh were aggressive in the first half, the
shots weren't dropping for either of them as they were just trying too hard.
the second half was another matter, as both players attacked the basket
relentlessly, scoring on drives, runouts, stickbacks and free-throws. Some of
Duke's other young players also get a chance to work their rust out, as
Brittany Mitch, Emily Waner and Carrem Gay all had solid games. Coach G made a
point of playing her youngsters as a unit for an extended period of time in the
second half, and it paid off in an effort to develop Duke's depth. She let
them play through some mistakes and gel a bit as a unit, and the result was a
lot of turnovers generated and dominance on the boards.

Northeastern's early fearless play gave them small leads of 2-0, 2-1 and 4-3
before Duke went out ahead. However, the margin was just 4 points seven
minutes into the half, when the Devils went on a 14-0 run to break the game
open. Even then, NE fought back to within 14 points with less then three
minutes to go in the half; however, the Devils turned up their intensity and
went into the locker room on a 7-0 run and then ran off 15 straight points
right after halftime.

In the early going, Duke missed a lot of open shots. Waner blew two
transition layups, mostly because she had trouble finishing with her off hand.
Bales was getting passes a bit low and brought the ball down, and was a bit too
hesitant in making her move. The double-teams being thrown at her hurt her
timing and the lack of space made her press a bit. Northeastern was fully
prepared for Duke's press, beating them up the court in transition several
times. That was pretty much the only way they could score on Duke, and even
then Harding raced down the court on one runout and forced a bad shot. Smith
was aggressive early on, driving and getting fouled and then hitting a jumper
off a steal. Gay made her presence known early as well, hitting 2 free throws
after an offensive rebound and scoring on a Waner feed. Waner made up for her
missed layups with a spectacular basket in transition, where she got the ball,
faked a pass and then rolled all the way to the basket for a score. A Smith
pull-up three and Harding foul shot gave Duke a 15-8 lead, but Northeastern
struck back with a trey of their own to make it 15-11 with under thirteen
minutes to go in the first half.

That's when Duke threw a 14-0 run on the Huskies and opened things up a bit.
Waner and Gay led the way here, as Gay had 7 points and Waner 5. Waner hit an
elbow jumper, a foul shot and had a steal & layup (where she just bodied up her
opponent and flat took the ball away from her), while Gay had a stickback, an
open finish and some free throws. Duke forced 7 turnovers during the run and
converted many of them for points. The Devils then went to their bench a bit
more extensively after opening up that lead, and they did not respond well at
first. After Duke took that 29-11 lead, the Huskies went on a 7-2 run, fueled
in part by several bad turnovers from the Devils, including 2 in a row by

The lead hovered between 13 and 16 points, with the Huskies pulling to within
14 with under three minutes to go. Duke then finally got a few jumpers to
land, as Gay and Harding both sank mid-range shots. The Devils managed the
clock nicely down the stretch, as Waner scored on a drive to give Duke its
biggest lead at 43-22. Overall, it was not a dominant half for the Devils.
They forced 20 turnovers and held Northeastern to 28% from the field, but were
only +9 on the boards against a much smaller team. Harding, Smith and Bales
combined for 5-18 shooting and the bench accounted for just 3 points. Duke
would have to come out with a lot more enthusiasm and the second half, and work
to dominate their opponent as opposed to expecting their opponent to be

Abby Waner shook off her early mistakes to play a big role in Duke's
second-half knockout punch. She had a steal and runout and finished in
transition off a Smith steal in the early going. Nish played a big role as
well, coming up with 2 steals and set-ups for Bridgette Mitchell scores. Those
scores helped Mitchell get loose to the tune of 16 second-half points, as she
was simply everywhere. The statement play came when Bales turned the ball over
and it looked like Northeastern's Lucia Pablos was clear for a runout. Instead,
Harding caught up with her, got in front of her and skied for a huge two-handed
block that was ruled a held ball.

Duke's 15-0 run to start the half put the game away. The start of that run,
and many more minutes of solid play, came from a lineup of Cheek, Mitchell,
Jackson, Mitch and Emily Waner. Mitch was playing at point guard in order to
regain some comfort handling the ball over those first-half turnovers. Waner
was hunting her shot, with Jackson was acting as catalyst. Cheek started to
warm up as well, scoring off a Mitchell feed and then posting up on her own for
a score. Waner shook off an opponent with a crossover and then sank a baseline
jumper that clearly lifted a big weight off her shoulders. She followed that
up with a silky threeball from the corner. Jackson then had a steal and runout
and Mitchell another stickback as Duke ran their lead up to 78-29.

Northeastern scored a few more late baskets as Duke eased up on their defensive
pressure. Still, the latter stages of the game were positive for Mitch, who
exploded for 10 points in the games final seven minutes. She nailed 2 threes,
sank 2 foul shots and even had a steal & runout. Mitchell was still attacking
the basket and sank a turnaround jumper. In the half, Duke had a 34-9 edge on
the boards, including 19-4 on the offensive end. The Devils forced 36
turnovers and turned them into 40 points, and had 30 second-chance points. The
Northeastern coach noted that while she was proud of her team's effort, the
turnovers and rebounds were things that she felt were in her team's control and
they didn't do a very good job. She came out with the plan of running up and
down the floor and beating Duke in transition and then mixing defenses. She
knew her team couldn't compete in a halfcourt game with Duke and so tried to
run at every opportunity. Coach G noted that the Huskies certainly were
intimidated and kept "coming at us", though she was pleased that her players

Overall, the game was a positive experience in that Duke faced a well-coached
club that thought hard about how to combat Duke's strengths and played with
intensity. It forced Duke to match that intensity and allowed the Devils a
chance to find out what its younger players could do. This team is still
getting to know each other and will take a little team for roles to be fully
worked out. Thankfully, the Devils are ramping up the competition slowly.
Marist will be a slightly tougher test next week, then things get harder with
Penn State and Houston, before things really get difficult with ranked
opponents. The one question remaining is the availability of Chante Black. It
was thought that she might be available for this game, but some swelling in her
knee scratched her from this game. Coach G is hoping that she'll be available
for the Marist game next Friday.


** Bales: This game was a real struggle for Ali on offense. When her first shot
didn't go down, she got anxious and started to rush things. Ironically, Bales
was so cognizant of the fact that Duke's size advantage meant that she should
be able to get easy shots, that she simply tried too hard. The fact that
Northeastern was bumping her a bit to throw off her timing and rhythm certainly
didn't help, as she finished just 1-10 from the field. The good news was that
she went to the foul line 8 times, used her size to grab 11 rebounds and erased
5 shots. That included 2 in a row at one point, including stuffing a three
attempt in the corner. Bales was confident going into the game, and Coach G
noted that they'll break down film to show her what she could have done.
Duke's guards needed to do a better of job of delivering passes a bit higher to
her in order to take advantage of her height and reach, but Bales also needed to
be more decisive and aggressive when she did post up. She's likely to get this
kind of attention the entire season, so hopefully she'll relax when better
competition comes to town.

** Gay: Carrem really needed a good game to restore her confidence after a rough
outing on Thursday night. Fortunately, she not only scored a career-high 16
points, she scored 14 of them in the first half, when Duke really needed them.
She got 8 trips to the foul line, absorbing contact nicely. She alertly
attacked the basket for 2 stickbacks, got open for 2 other scores, and hit a
15' jumper with a confident stroke. Gay's game doesn't scream "spectacular",
but rather it's just efficient. Defensively, she was out on the wing quite a
bit, hedging between post and wing. With Black out, this was a perfect
opportunity for her to step up at both ends, and she acquitted herself well.

** Smith: While Nish struggled to score (just 2-9 from the field), she was
excellent in all other phases of the game. In particular, her passing and
defense were both top-notch. In a first half when everyone else seemed stuck
in the mud in transition, it was Nish who raced down the floor to break up
plays. When the offense was stalling at times, Nish took it upon herself to
attack the basket, get to the line, or find a player on a runout. She scored
all of her points in the game's first seven minutes, and they were important
because the rest of the team was missing easy shots. In the second half, she
had 3 assists in the first five minutes of the second half to salt the game
away. A very mature performance overall.

** A. Waner: Abby is the team's gambler at both ends of the floor. She
fearlessly goes to the hoop or goes after the steal--sometimes it works out,
sometimes not so much. In this game, she didn't mope after missing a couple of
early layups, hitting 7 of her last 10 shots and prowling the passing lanes for
5 steals. Abby loves to run, and in this game she had 4 fast break baskets.
Waner also hit a jumper from the elbow during part of the run that gave Duke a
substantive first-half lead. Waner had her moments where she briefly ran the
offense, but she was clearly a scorer in this game. Her defense was solid
here, rarely getting beaten and forcing a jump ball.

** Harding: This was a solid but unspectacular outing for Duke's leader.
Playing just 22 minutes and taking just 6 shots, Harding was content to defend
and set up others. Harding had 2 baskets during Duke's late first-half run and
sank a long two in the second half run that put the game completely out of
reach. More impressive was Harding's defense. In addition to snuffing out a
fast break basket in the first half, her astonishing 2-handed stuff of another
transition attempt stunned everyone. One senses that Harding had more tricks
up her sleeve but chose to lay back a bit, trying to encourage others. It
would have been nice to see her assert herself just a bit more on offense.

** Cheek: Joy struggled offensively in the first half. She coughed up the ball
three times, including once under her own basket after a rebound. She got
double-teamed and no one came to help her out quickly enough; she panicked and
threw the ball away. On another occasion, she travelled on her way to a
breakaway. Cheek also had a bit of trouble operating inside, despite the fact
that she was clearing opponents out for 7 first half boards. In the second
half, she got a nice feed from Jackson and scored easily, which seemed to relax
her. During one segment of the game, she scored 7 of Duke's 9 points. Later in
the game, she was pounded going up for baskets and went to the foul line, where
she smoothly converted. Joy's incredible strength was on display, as she
ripped down a number of rebounds and forced a held ball so vehemently that she
knocked her opponent to the ground. The overall result was a 12-point, 11
rebound day that came from effort, power and aggressiveness. Coach G knows
that she can do this on a regular basis, especially since she faces Bales every
day in practice and "does not back down". Cheek played a lot of defense out on
the wing in this game in addition to defending the post, and she acquitted
herself nicely.

** Mitch: Britt struggled mightily in the first half, continuing her
difficulties in the last exhibition game. She missed her only shot and threw 2
terrible passes that resulted in Northeastern scores. After being hyped up as a
major contributor in the preaseason, Mitch looked like she had her confidence
level shaken a bit. In the second half, Coach G played her extensively (13
minutes) and let her play through mistakes. Britt responded by effectively
running the offense, playing fine defense (3 steals) and finally hitting some
shots. When she hit a three with under seven minutes to go, you could see her
heave a sigh of relief. She immediately followed that up with a steal &
runout, and hit another open three later in the game. Mitch can now go back to
practice knowing that she was finally able to get major minutes and perform
well; hopefully, this will carry over to next week and beyond.

** Mitchell: Like Cheek, Bridgette struggled a bit in the first half. She was
also grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but she had only a single stickback
to show for it. She did feed Gay for a scoring from the wing and blocked a shot
from a driving player, but it wasn't a high-impact half overall from her or the
Duke bench in general. In the second half, Mitchell was 7-10 from the field.
That included 2 stickbacks, a fast break basket, 2 scores on setups from guards
and a turnaround jumper in the lane. Mitchell came up with an eye-popping 11
offensive rebounds and 3 steals. She did turn the ball over several times, but
she made up for it with her aggressivenes. Bridgette noted that Coach G told
her to be patient with herself on the floor, and that she was thinking too
much. When she simply relaxed and told herself to "just play basketball",
everything fell into place. I will be very curious to see if these freshmen
are ready to play against good opponents.

** Jackson: KJ made her Duke debut in this game, and she was excited as the true
freshmen to get out there. After a cameo appearance in the first half, KJ made
some plays. Her first career score was a steal and layup under Northeastern's
basket, but she also set up Cheek nicely on a drive and drop-off and found
Mitch for a three. Jackson played solid defense, had a lot of energy, and
didn't make a lot of mistakes. She's a fine hustle/energy player--she won't
necessarily score a ton of points, but she can certainly help. I'm not quite
sure where she fits into this team's rotation at the moment, but one thing's
for sure: she won't sit on the bench due to a lack of effort.

** E. Waner: Em is another bench player who's been struggling of late, but she
also finally came alive in the second half. Finally feeling comfortable on the
floor, she broke off a nice move and popped a baseline jumper. She immediately
followed that up with a three and had several assists as well. Both she and
her sister were trying to work on the little things as well, like getting an
extra rebound here and there. Getting extended minutes made her look a lot
more comfortable out there, and allowed her hustle and effort to be rewarded.
Em was diving for loose balls more than any other player, knowing full well
that she has to fight for every edge possible in her quest to become a regular
part of the rotation. More than anything, it looks like she's regaining her
confidence as a player.