Duke 70, Penn State 42. November 21, 2006. Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Penn State was Duke's first true test of the season. The Lady Lions had
beaten South Carolina and thrashed Notre Dame at home, and the young squad was
confident that they'd be much more competitive with Duke this year than last.
Coach Rene Portland continue to be embroiled in a lawsuit filed by a former
player, who claims that Portland made a number of racist and homophobic
comments towards her during her career, and that this was the true cause of her
dismissal from the team. Portland says it had more to do with her talent level
and chemistry issues, though the fact that Harris was a key contributor to her
team and that other teammates claim no such disruption makes this a very ugly
case indeed. Of course, the fact that Portland has gone on record to say that
she would never allow a lesbian on her team doesn't help matters any either.
Penn State is a public school with very specific anti-discriminatory guidelines,
which makes these issues even more complex.
One thing's for sure, though: Portland will be defiant to the end. The other
sure bet is that she will coach the hell out of whatever talent she does have
on her team. Getting 13 wins out of a freshman-dominated team last season was
an amazing achievement. With everyone back this season and the addition of top
frosh Tyra Grant, the Lady Lions were looking for a signature win. Portland
noted after the game that the reason her players possibly didn't match Duke's
intensity was that they thought this was a normal game. They couldn't have been
As stunned as Portland looked after the beating that her team had just taken,
Coach G seemed almost as shocked. She said that while she was enormously
pleased by her team's effort, there was no indication that they were ready to
unleash the kind of defensive pressure they displayed in this game. Playing
three games in five days helped her club find ways to quickly correct mistakes
and figure out what was working and why. More than that, the team took their
cue from its leaders. Lindsey Harding and Alison Bales not only utterly
dominated their own individual defensive match-ups, they found time to help out
on other match-ups.
The key to any Penn State team is their point guard. Playing in a somewhat
conservative offense, Portland emphasizes ball control, taking good shots and
making the opponent lose patience defensively. Brianne O'Rourke is their
current playmaker, and Duke turned her over 9 times last year in Happy Valley.
Coach G thought that this might still be in the back of her mind and told
Harding to attack her. The ferociousness with which Lindsey carried out this
assignment was awe-inspiring. She was flying all over the court: forcing held
balls, diving to the floor for rebounds, and funneling foes to the sideline
where she caused them to turn the ball over. Thanks to Harding, O'Rourke was
so nervous that she couldn't initiate anything in the first half. She did
score on Lindsey twice in the second half for her only field goals but her 2-9
shooting from the floor and 3 turnovers attest to her performance.
PSU's other key player was 6-4 center Amanda Brown. Averaging a double-double
coming in and shooting 50% from the field, it was her presence that opened up
the floor for PSU's penetrators & shooters like Grant and Kam Gissendanner
(formerly of NC State). This was the first top-notch post player Bales would
face, and it was obvious that she relished the challenge. Defensively, Ali
held Brown to 3-8 from the floor and 5 turnovers. PSU swarmed Bales several
times in the post and actually took to fronting her, hoping that Duke would
overshoot her. Instead, Coach G moved Ali up just a bit, allowing cutters to
head to the basket. Ali simply waited patiently and threw 3 perfect passes to
cutters for scores. When Penn State gave her room in the high post, she hit a
jumper. When they bodied her one on one, she drove for a score. Most
impressively, Bales felt comfortable roaming on defense to the tune of 9
blocked shots. Ali noted that the defensive rotations were so quick that she
was able to move over to the weak side and block shots there. While PSU did
wind up with 15 offensive rebounds, the fact that they had just 4 second chance
points speaks to the powerful deterrent that is Alison Bales.
Duke started the game with Harding finding a crease in the defense, driving
and dishing off to Wanisha Smith for a 15' jumper. Harding and Bales played
stiff defense early on, with a Bales block leading to a Harding three. Another
Bales block bounced off Gissendanner, and Smith took advantage by hitting Carrem
Gay for another jumper. A Smith steal led to a fast break finish for Gay. When
Duke got the ball back, Bales patiently waited for Harding to cut to the hoop
and found her for a three point play. When Bales passed out of a double-team
to Mitchell for a long jumper, Duke had a commanding 15-2 lead.
Penn State cut that lead to 17-8 after a Waner turnover and a couple of other
short baskets, but Harding once again took control. She first found Bales
inside for a score and then hit Mitchell on a cut. Waner then picked off an
O'Rourke pass for a layup. When Harding grabbed a board, tore through the
defense and acrobatically drove to the basket for a score, it put Duke up 25-8
and forced a PSU time-out.
The Lady Lions responded with 6 straight points thanks to a couple of Duke
turnovers. Then they tried to press the Devils, which turned out to be a bad
move. Mitch blew through the press, scoring on a fake and drive. Brit then
drove and dished off to Bales for a jumper. After yet another Bales block (6
in the half), Harding threw a bomb to Smith. Duke went up 35-16, but eased up
a bit on defense. The Lady Lions scored 7 in a row before Bales found Cheek on
a cut. However, the Lions scored right before the half to make it 37-25. While
Duke was in control, they hadn't yet put the game out of reach. Duke shot 50%
and Penn State 36%, but the Devils were outrebounded and alowed 10 points off
turnovers. The first few minutes of the second half would tell the tale.
After a few misses by both teams, Abby Waner overplayed the wing for a steal
and layup. Harding attacked the basket and was fouled, hitting both. After
O'Rourke scored twice to cut the score to 41-30, Duke unleashed a 22-2 run that
put the game away. Waner scored 10 straight points on free throws, 2 fast break
finishes and 2 finished cuts. Penn State missed several easy shots during the
run, including blowing a 3-on-1 break. The highlight of the run was Harding
going high to block a three point attempt by Gissendanner. The arc of the shot
was fairly high, but Harding climbed the ladder and stunned everyone.
Penn State finaly scored, but Duke ripped off the next 12 points. Cheek
scored twice, Brittany Mitch stuck back a miss and Mitchell scored on a fast
break triggered by yet another Bales block. With five minutes to go, Duke was
up 30 and the game was over. The Devils smoked the Lady Lions 12-0 on fast
break points in the half and had a 14-5 edge in points off turnovers. For the
game, the Devils picked up an astonishing 18 steals and 12 blocks. The game
would have been an even bigger blowout if Duke had hit its threes--they went
just went 1-13 from downtown.
** Bales: Ali had 9 points on just 5 shots, but she was dominant at both ends.
She was part of a post passing attack that tore Penn State to shreds, with 4
beautiful passes to cutters. Her 9 blocks didn't include several hurries and
bad shots that Penn State was putting up in order to try to avoid her. The way
she was blocking shots, rebounding and outletting to her guards was positively
Russell-esque at times. Amanda Brown was a good first test for her, but there
will be tougher opponents on the way soon.
** Gay: Carrem was a bit quieter today than in past games. She scored on a
jumper (which she takes with confidence) and a drive, but she also had a shot
swatted and turned the ball over a few times.
** Smith: Nish opened with a jumper but had trouble connecting offensively the
rest of the game, other than a fast break finish. She did get to the foul line
4 ties and played her usual impressive defense. Nish went after dribbles and
prowled passing lanes for 5 steals, and she also did a nice job of throwing
long bombs for fast break scores.
** A.Waner: Abby was 1-7 in the first half and 6-6 in the second half, all on
layups. She noted that she was trying to score too much off of jumpers in the
first half and that in order to become a more complete player, she had to find
other ways to contribute. Moving well without the ball, finishing in
transition and prowling the passing lanes for steals was just what the doctor
ordered in that regard. Moreover, seeing Abby bounce back from her fast-half
struggles just points to her increased maturity.
** Harding: Lindsey's numbers belied how dominant she was at both ends of the
floor. While she was just 3-10 from the field, her 6 assists, 5 boards and 2
steals gave a hint at just how much control she exerted. After the game, she
noted that while she thought she played good defense in the games to date, she
knew that she hadn't "pushed as hard" as she could on defense to cause
turnovers and spark her own offense. The Harding in this game was the Lindsey
who could be an All-American.
** Mitchell: I was curious to see how Bridgette would react in a game with
higher stakes. She played with a reasonable amount of control, though she did
turn the ball over twice. Still, she scored in a variety of ways (jumper, fast
break, cut) and played crazed defense. No one on the team loves jumping to a
trap more than Bridgette.
** E.Waner: Em was the first guard off the bench, but she unfortunately is still
having trouble getting her jumper to fall. Waner also turned the ball over a
couple of times when she was running the team. Coach G is giving her a lot of
minutes in an effort to get her comfortable, but she's not there yet. The
effort certainly is there--she got 3 boards.
** Cheek: Joy was a bit up and down--a rebound she snagged was taken away from
her along with another turnover. That said, Joy grabbed 5 boards in just 15
minutes and moved extremely well without the ball. In fact, she scored twice
on cuts because she was in the right place at the right time. Cheek also had a
nifty move where she drove and flipped up a little jumper.
** Mitch: Brittany had a decent game, mostly filling in at 2-guard and wing.
She scored on a nice fake, got a couple of o-boards, a steal and dished to
Bales for a score. I'm not sure she's completely comfortable in the offense
yet, but I was happy to see Coach G play her with 4 starters. I think the best
way to use her is with the team's best players, because she has a way of making
them better and sneaking in for hustle plays.
** Jackson: KJ was the last player off the bench but as always, she hustled.
She got an offensive board and was fouled, and nailed some free throws. She
also found Abby for one of her many fast break baskets. At this point, it
seems like she's the last player off the bench in big games, but the bench
seems fairly fluid at this point. Other than Mitchell (and Gay when Black
comes back), I don't see a rotation set in stone yet.