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Duke Gives Houston Problems

Duke 81, Houston 35. November 19, 2006. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Coach G told her team that the Houston Cougars played a style completely the
opposite of Marist, Friday night's opponent. Unlike Marist, Houston was a
quick team that looked to attack one-on-one and take quick shots. As a result,
Duke eschewed traps and full-court defense in favor of strong, consistent
quarter-court defense. When Duke played man-to-man, Houston turned the ball
over, took bad shots and couldn't get to a rebound. When the Devils tried to
use a zone, the results weren't quite as successful. Houston got many more
shots as Duke's players were out of position, and while the Cougars missed a
lot of open looks, they grabbed more offensive rebounds when Duke went zone.
After Duke held them to just 6 o-boards in the first half, Houston grabbed 11
in the second half.

The story of the game can be summarized with two stats: Duke had a 29-3 edge
in points off turnovers and a 29-6 advantage in second-chance points. That
helped offset Duke's mediocre 45% shooting percentage (and just 24% from three
on 17 attempts). Houston coach Joe Curl offered no excuses for his team's
performance and wished that they could have been more competitive, but he was
impressed by Duke's superior size, speed and quickness. That said, he dressed
just eight players and used seven of them. Starting forward Ryan Meyers, who
grabbed 16 rebounds against Texas Tech, spent much of the game on the bench
thanks to foul trouble. Star guard Tye Jackson hurt her knee in preseason, but
will be back in a month. Another top inside presence is just finishing up her
volleyball season. Meanwhile, he had several new players to deal with, so it's
no wonder that his offense looks so disjointed. Curl said he wanted to play the
best and that his team will have to learn how to play better as a unit. Duke
forced his team into too much one-on-one play, or rather baited them into
making bad decisions with smart position defense.

Duke's game plan on offense was simple: share the ball. Coach G thought that
her plays shot too quickly against Marist and urged her team to be patient on
offense if a fast break layup wasn't there. I think the Devils were looking to
be aggressive against Marist and got a little overexcited, taking bad shots that
didn't seem that bad to each player in the moment. By having her players
actively look to assist each other, it created an offense that flowed nicely
out there. Even though a lot of easy shots weren't dropping for Duke, at least
the players were getting good looks. Coach G noted that as a result of
integrating so many new players, it would be a "process" to improve the team's
shooting, especially since so many players are being asked to take and make
attempts that they didn't have to last season.

The Devils played a smothering brand of halfcourt defense to start the game.
Duke broke out to a 7-0 lead thanks to an Abby Waner three and a couple of
Alison Bales scores inside. The Cougars turned the ball over 4 times in the
early going, but Duke was slow to jump on them definitively. The Devils missed
at least 6 layups in the half. When Duke was up 17-6, it should have been 27-6.
Duke went about four minutes scoring just 4 points and eight minutes scoring
only 13 points. The Devils never relented on defense and held Houston
scoreless for eight minutes in the first half. Both teams finally got some
baskets to go in in the half's final five minutes, as Duke outscored Houston
just 13-12.

Duke started to blow the game open a bit with three straight treys, two by
Abby Waner and one by Wanisha Smith. After missing so many easy shots, it was
odd to see Duke right their ship by making longer attempts. Duke went up by as
much as 26 points, but the Cougars scored the last five points of the half.
Even though Duke shot just 41% for the half, their 18-0 margin in points off
turnovers and 14-2 edge in second-chance points gave them a commanding 39-18
lead. A.Waner had 11 points and Bales 10 to lead Duke, and both players did a
lot more than score to help their team.

The Devils stayed cold to start the second half, shooting just 1-9 from the
floor. Their only field goal in the first three minutes of the half was a long
jumper from Bales. Houston wasn't doing much better, starting 1-6 from the
field. Mitchell entered the game for Duke, and her energy gave everyone a
boost. She stuck back a Harding miss, finished a pass from Lindsey and then
finished a fast break started by A.Waner. Waner also had a pass to Gay inside
for a swooping hook shot plus the foul. When Harding canned a 17' jumper on a
pull-up, Duke led 54-25 and the game was effectively over.

That commanding lead gave Coach G a chance at a lot of different looks on the
floor. She gave her bench a long look, with Harding lead four youngsters at
times and Emily Waner taking the reins for some extended minutes as well.
Waner was looking to push the ball and had a pretty "up" to Mitch, who finished
in stride on a cut. Duke's final margin of 46 points was its largest of the
game, as Houston simply wore down as the game went on. While no Duke player
was out there for more than 25 minutes or less than 15, five Cougars had to
play at least 30 minutes. There are some interesting pieces on that club, and
it'll be interesting to see what they do in Conference USA once they get some
of their best players back. Curl noted that it was his fault that his team had
so few players, but they signed a bunch of players from talent-rich Houston high
schools and are primed for the future. He did lament the loss of a particular
player: future Blue Devil Karima Christmas. He recruited her hard and noted
that she had a chance to be "a special player" at Duke.


** Bales: Duke did a much better job of getting Bales the ball, and Ali did a
pretty good job of aggressively asking for it and finishing. Since Houston
didn't have anyone over 6-2 to throw at her, Bales was able to get good
position with ease. Ali also dominated defensively, sending back consecutive
shots on one possession. Another block she had was called a foul, even though
it was a very close-looking call. That produced that sly, shy smile of hers,
the one that signals that she knows how dominant she can be at times. She
scored on an inbounds from Harding, a stickback, two routine post feeds from
Harding, a long jumper, and feeds from Abby Waner & Cheek. Bales noted after
the game that the guards did a great of getting her open looks the whole game,
easily surpassing the team's goal of getting her at least 10 shots a game (12
here). The main negative from this game was her 4 turnovers, mostly from
somewhat bad passes going off her hands.

** Gay: A deceptively quiet game for Carrem, who didn't put up big numbers but
did a lot of the little things. The noisy item for her was an attempted
breakaway dunk that clanged off the front of the rim. A little more elevation
would have seen that ball go in. Gay was credited with 8 rebounds and had at
least 3 or 4 other balls that she tipped to teammates. With Bales as the
team's offensive focus, the shots weren't there for her. Gay knows that this
is not necessarily what she's there for, though. Instead, she concentrated on
defense, moving the ball around and staying in motion. Her one basket, a
beautiful sweeping hook spinning towards the basket, was part of the second
half run that put the game away. One problem that Gay and several of Duke's
players had was getting whistled for a 3-second violation in the lane.

** Smith: An up and down game for Nish, who made some impressive plays & shots
and also had a few questionable moments. She got a three to drop during Duke's
big first-half run and finished a fast break basket. She also overthrew Bales
inside, coughed up the basketball later in the half and was called for
charging. The mature mature Nish recovered from that bad pass by stealing the
ball back and zipping all the way in for a layup plus the foul and then stole
the ball again on Houston's next possession. Nish came up with an impressive 5
offensive rebounds; playing at wing suits her, since playing closer to the
basket puts her in position to grab boards. Nish also held Whitney James to
1-8 shooting with 8 turnovers. Smith took an extended turn at point guard when
Harding was out. While she didn't have any assists, she did move the ball well.

** A Waner: Abby had an enormously satisfying performance, even if she shot just
5-14 from the floor. That's because she was the team's true catalyst at both
ends. Coach G noted that Abby is understanding that it's not enough to play
hard, you have to play smart as well. That's translating over to defense in
particular. Gail said that Abby is no longer just going after every steal but
rather is playing solid position defense and has a greater sense of when to
gamble and when to just play it straight. One can clearly see that the game is
slowing down for her, because she's able to employ her non-stop hustle in the
right situations. After scoring 11 early points (with 3 threes that hurt
Houston badly), she only scored 4 in the second. That included a stickback of
a Bales miss and a score on a cut from Gay. More impressively, she set up
Bales and Gay for baskets. Her most impressive play came on a long rebound.
The ball had a funny bounce as Waner snagged it near the sideline. Abby kept
dribbling, maintained her balance and control, and then sped down the court,
finding Mitchell for an easy finish. Despite missing some shots, Waner's
passing, rebounding and defense were all top-notch.

** Harding: Lindsey was in much more control out there than against Marist, and
her on-ball defense will haunt Houston guard Maya Onikute for weeks. Lindsey
missed some jumpers, but they all came in the flow of the offense and I was
happy to see her take them. She did sink 15' and 19' jumpers and also scored
off a fast break and a drive. Her passing was flawless, especially when she
set Bales up inside. Lindsey also hit Abby for a three and Nish in transition.

** Cheek: Joy was quietly efficient in this game and once again demonstrated her
strength and quickness on the boards. Joy immediately hit the boards when she
entered and played defense, forcing 2 jump balls. In the second half, she
scored off a perfect feed from E.Waner and a late stickback. Joy was called
for 3-seconds on one possession and needed to move just a bit more on offense,
but she was otherwise solid.

** E.Waner: Em is slowly growing more comfortable with this team, even if her
shot still isn't falling. Waner played extensively at both point and shooting
guard in this game and used her ability to create to Duke's advantage on
several plays. In the open court, she threw perfect passes to Cheek and Mitch
for easy scores. It was good to see her stay confident and positive after
missing badly on a three (airball) and a 10' jumper (ugly). Waner also played
fine defense; one can tell that she's recovered from her bad foot by the way
she moved around, even blocking a shot as her opponent was cocking back to
fire. Em was also responsible for the funniest moment of the game. Up by
about 40, Em drove and passed to her sister in the corner, right in front of
the bench. The only problem was that Abby was not actually in the game at the
time and was just standing up to cheer what she thought was going to be a three
by her sister! Em hit her perfectly, and everyone stared in shock as they
realized what happened--and then burst out laughing. That included Abby, the
refs, Coach G and Emily herself. In Emily's defense, Abby WAS open!

** Mitchell: An observer knows pretty quickly that Bridgette has taken the
floor. Her energy simply draws one's eye towards her, regardless of whether
she's making a good or bad play. That energy works against her a bit when she
enters the game, but given a chance to breathe and relax, it makes her the
hardest-working player on the floor. There's a relentlessness to her game that
makes her difficult to stop, along with a wiry strength. Mitchell came in and
immediately turned the ball over by doing a two-foot hop before she dribbled.
She then missed her first shot after a rebound and then stuck the next attempt
in. When she finished on a pretty reverse layup on an Abby Waner pass, that
seemed to calm her down a bit. In the second half, she made an immediate
impact when her number was called. She grabbed 3 rebounds, got a stickback for
a score, finished a fast break and also scored off a Harding feed. More
mistakes came: getting whistled for 3 seconds and picking up a foul. However,
Mitchell immediately came back to make up for those errors, getting to the foul
line (where she was a smooth 6-8 for the game), finding E.Waner on a fast break
after picking off a rebound, blocking a shot and generally leaving chaos in her
wake defensively. Houston had some quick players, but Mitchell blew past them
repeatedly to get rebounds. That's two double-doubles in three games for
Bridgette. She's a work in progress, but there's so much to work with there.

** Mitch: Brittany mostly played at the two and three in this game, using her
ability to move without the ball rather crisply. Unlike the first game and most
of the second, Mitch played mostly at the wing and two-guard in this game and
didn't do much ballhandling. Her notable plays included a steal after she
missed a layup, a block and a perfect finish on a cut.

** Jackson: KJ is another young player trying to adjust after a year away from
the game, and there's still a bit of rust on her game. It's clear that she's
trying to figure out how she fits in and what skills she can bring to bear on a
regular basis. Like Brittany, there was one play where she coughed up the ball
but then immediately got back on defense, poked the ball away and got the
steal. KJ also nailed a short face-up jumper off the dribble, found A.Waner
for a three and blocked a shot.