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Women's Basketball Review/Preview, Part 2

III. Player-by-Player Evaluation: Players Returning

** Lindsey Harding 5-8 G Sr. 10.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2 spg, 41% 3FG

Notable 2006 Achievements:
Kodak All-America, Honorable Mention
AP All-America, Honorable Mention
ACC Defensive Player of the Year
ACC All-Defensive Team
All-ACC, Second Team
ACC Player of the Week
MVP, Duke Classic

Season Recap: Lindsey?s return to basketball was a resounding success. After
a year away, there was some doubt that she was physically and emotionally ready
to compete again at the highest level. Lindsey responded with career highs in
points, steals, FG%, FT% and 3FG%. Harding played her usual top-notch defense,
earning Defensive Player of the Year in the league. While Currie was the
team's unquestioned go-to star, Lindsey was the team's heart. She was able
to both take back her role as the player who did all the dirty work and assert
herself on offense at the same time. Lindsey came back to the team having to
do a little less heavy lifting in terms of running the offense, thanks to the
experience of Wanisha Smith and the arrival of Abby Waner, not to mention
Currie having to play a lot of point as well. With Currie gone, is Harding
ready to take on new responsibilities, both as leader and scorer?

Harding did a lot of work before her junior year on her shooting form. Like
many young players, her lack of confidence in her jumper was her main
difficulty. A summer spent with "the gun", an automatic shooting device,
improved her form, her touch and the arc she put on her shot. She started off
the year 19-35 from three before tailing off with 4-21 shooting in her last 13
games. Lindsey compensated by attacking the basket and getting to the foul
line, getting career marks in FT attempts. Even when she wasn't hitting her
shots, she was at least stretching the defense by taking threes.

While Lindsey's stats were quite good, it wasn't always easy to quantify
what she did for her team. Her presence as a formidable on-ball defender meant
that opposing offenses had to be aware of her ability to disrupt them at any
time. The Duke Classic was an early indicator of what she'd be capable of,
lighting up Arkansas State for 19 points and then forcing Auburn's guards
into 12 turnovers, while getting 7 assists with zero turnovers herself.
Harding then put offensive pressure on Texas with 13 points and made all the
crucial plays down the stretch against Florida State. That included a late
three that put the game out of reach and a couple of other jumpers that held
the 'noles at bay. Against Maryland in their first meeting, Lindsey was 6-6
in the first half at a time when Currie was misfiring, blowing by the Terp
guards and hitting several long jumpers. Her performance forced the Terps to
send a spy after her in the second half, freeing things up for her teammates.
Against NC State, Harding was assigned to face-guard a rampaging Billie
McDowell in the second half and shut her down. She absolutely tortured
Tennessee, limiting Alexis Hornbuckle and forcing 6 turnovers. That game was
her national coming-out party, one that opened a lot of eyes. Lindsey was the
key factor in the run against Virginia that pushed the lead up to 16. This was
yet another example of Harding knowing when to take over games.

Harding hurt her shoulder late in the year, something that affected her shooting
during that period. That started to affect her overall confidence when playing
top-notch teams like UNC and Maryland, but she recovered for the NCAA
Tournament and played quite well. She shut down Michigan State and set up her
teammates for 7 assists. Against UConn, she limited Ann Strother and hit a
late clutch jumper. Harding also played quite well in the national title game,
forcing Kristi Toliver into a horrific shooting game; Lindsey fouling out
spelled the end for Duke.

In 2007, Harding will be the team?s undisputed leader. Always a leader by
example, Lindsey must now become a vocal presence. I think she's ready for
this role; I actually heard her yell at someone in practice, which may be a
first. Speaking of first, Lindsey will need to learn to call her own number
more often. While Duke will be a post-oriented team, Harding has to stretch
out defenses early and especially attack the basket. She did have a bit of a
tough summer, dealing with assorted minor injuries and even mono, all of which
made her take the summer off. That bit of rest will cause some rust early on
(especially with shooting), but could help her down the stretch during tourney
time. Harding is headed towards a big season and will be a top WNBA pick, but
first Duke will lean on her toughness in order to maximize its potential.

Best Games: Old Dominion (16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists); Maryland (19
points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals); Boston College (18 points, 7
rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals); Tennessee (15 points, 4 assists, 8
steals); Maryland (16 points, 5 assists, 3 steals)

Statwise: Lindsey will soon crack the 1000 point mark with her current
total of 835. She's currently #3 in career assists, just 85 behind Hilary
Howard. She's #7 in steals with 210 and will likely zoom all the way up
to #2 behind Alana Beard before it's all over. Lindsey also currently
stands at 23 charges taken in her career, good for 5th best.

Strengths: Quickness, speed, decision-making, on-ball defense,
penetration, improved shooting stroke
Needs To Work On: Initiating her own offense
Role: Primary playmaker and ballhandler, secondary shooter, coach on the
Must: Get to the foul line, look for her own shot

** Alison Bales 6-7 C Sr. 9.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.5 bpg, 53% FG

Notable 2006 Achievements:
All-Tournament, NCAA Final Four
MVP, Bridgeport Regional

Season Recap: Alison Bales had three seasons. She began the season on a tear,
with a huge rebounding game against Texas and getting into double figures in 6
out of 7 games. During the ACC season, Ali took a huge step back, losing her
starting role in half the games and averaging just 6.6 ppg and 4.7 rpg. Bales
still averaged 3 bpg, but she struggled against a number of opponents. After a
strong early showing against Florida State, Ali was astonishingly passive at
both ends of the floor in January. She played well against UNC in Cameron with
10 points, but bottomed out with mediocre performances against Maryland and
Miami, two teams she should have been able to dominate. She started to perk up
a bit in the ACC Tournament, but gave no indications of what was to come.

Throughout the season, everyone knew that Bales could rebound, pass, and block
shots. She also had a fine shooting touch. Despite that, and the fact that
the guards had orders to get the ball inside first, Bales only had 1 game with
double-digit field goal attempts, and she had 5 or fewer attempts on 13
occasions. The 6-7 Bales simply didn?t have the confidence or aggression to
take over games the way she could. Ali was just too nice, too unwilling to
step into the spotlight. After three years, it seemed like Bales had reached
her peak, and would remain a solid defensive role player but not much more.

Then came the NCAA Tournament. After a solid showing in the first-round blowout
of Southern, Bales single-handedly destroyed Southern Cal. She hit long
jumpers, powered up inside, blocked 6 shots and altered many others. She was
blocking shots with so much force, she was knocking opponents to the ground.
USC couldn't do anything against her. After an efficient performance against
Michigan State, Bales was magnificent against UConn, earning the MVP award of
the Bridgeport region. She weathered UConn's physical assault after
struggling early, but still played strong defense and rebounded well. In the
second half, she did nothing but hit clutch free throws and jumpers in the most
hostile environment and high-stress situation possible. Though she was credited
with 8 blocks, I had her down with 12, indicating the kind of influence she had
on the game. Bales slowed down LSU superstar Sylvia Fowles, effectively
neutralizing her. Against Maryland in the national title game, Bales was
magnificent against one of the best frontlines in the game. She unleashed
gorgeous textbook moves that were utterly unstoppable. If Bales played with
that level of confidence, aggression and coolness all the time, she'd be a
player of the year candidate.

Moving on to this season, Ali is the team's biggest x-factor. If she can play
on a game-to-game basis the way she did in the NCAA tournament, then no team in
the country is going to want to face Duke. There's simply no way to combat
a skilled, aggressive 6-7 player who can pass and shoot along with posting up
without double or even triple teaming her. Bales has to be prepared for that
eventuality and must learn to deal with it quickly, strongly and decisively.
If she can make that final hurdle of development, then Duke has a date with the
Final Four in its immediate future. That's because a Bales who reacts quickly
to double-teams has a large variety of weapons to work with, and if they get
wide-open looks, Duke will be very difficult to beat.

Best Games: Penn State (15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks); Florida State
(14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks); Southern Cal (22 points, 9 rebounds, 6
blocks); UConn (15 points, 13 rebounds, 8 blocks); Maryland (19 points, 12
rebounds, 3 blocks)

Statwise: Bales owns the Duke shot-blocking record with 283 and is on her
way to owning the ACC (and possibly NCAA) record as well. Ali is currently at
672 career points and has a good shot at cracking 1000 for her career this
season. She'll also soon crack the top 10 in career rebounding.

Strengths: Shot-blocking, post scoring, passing, size, improved
Needs To Work On: Continued aggressiveness on offense
Role: Primary post scorer and defender
Must: Find ways to get to the foul line more, take at least 10 shots a

** Chante Black 6-5 C Jr. 7.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2 bpg, 54% FG

Notable 2006 Achievements:
All-Tournament, Surf 'n Slam Classic

Season Recap: Of all Duke's players, Chante has the most tantalizing talent
level. She's a ridiculous athlete, an intense defensive player and is all
about team. Yet she hasn't been able to consistently dominate opponents the
way she should. Sprinkled in with those occasional double-doubles where she
uses her blinding quickness to overwhelm foes inside are donut games where
opponents push her around and render her a non-factor. While she's had some
injury problems in her career, this inconsistency can be attributed almost
entirely to youth and confidence.

To a degree, she faced the same problem that affected Abby Waner and
Wanisha Smith. She knew there was another player of equal ability who was
fighting for a starting role in Alison Bales, and both often played with one eye
over their shoulder, worried that they might get yanked from the game if they
made a mistake. When things started going wrong for Chante during a game, she
often went into a shell and didn't fight back when she got back into a game.
When things went right, Duke became impossible to guard. The fully engaged
Chante is simply a monster to deal with; when her jumper was working as well,
opponents could do nothing.

This season, Mistie Williams is gone and Bales will play alongside Black. The
two played as a tandem at times in the NCAA tournament, and the results were
often devastating for opponents. When those two are together, scoring in the
post is virtually impossible. Either both will snuff out a shot, or one will
get the block and the other the rebound. Chante has superb timing and her
length allows her to get to a lot of shots.

The problem with that tandem last year was worrying about scoring in the post.
Neither was as naturally aggressive as Williams inside and had to be cajoled to
take over a game. As a junior, this can no longer be the case for Black. To
her credit, she stayed on campus this summer with Smith. Both worked
extensively on their bodies and one can see the fruits of their labors in their
arms and especially their shoulders. With more bulk and definition, both
players will be able to absorb contact with much less difficulty. Hopefully
this will mean both can finish with contact inside. Chante also practiced for
many hours with "the gun", a shooting machine that Harding used last summer to
improve the arc on her shot. It's remarkable to see how much more fluid and
comfortable Black looks taking jumpers from the free throw line. She has vowed
to make that a more consistent part of her game this season, in much the same
way Williams did last year. Coach G has labeled her the most improved player
coming into this season.

If Chante has a weakness in her skill set, it's passing. This season, she
will need to operate from the high post from time to time and pass out of
double teams inside to open shooters. Hopefully her improved strength will
allow her to grab balls near the basket and guide them in, as well as finish
her spins to the basket. While Bales has been ordered to take at least 10
shots a game, Chante shouldn't be far behind her. While Bales' game is about
height and positioning, Chante excels at making the quick, strong move inside.
Don't be surprised to see her shoot a little fade-away basket from 10' and in,
using her fast feet to gain separation.

After an unremarkable first 6 weeks of the season, Chante exploded for double
figures in 5 of her next 6 games. That included a demolition of Maryland on
the road when Bales and Williams were both in foul trouble. She used her
quickness to score at will against Langhorne inside, and kept her off the
boards altogether. Black made Tennessee's posts look like stiffs as she
wheeled around them for several scores and succeeded in shutting them down as

Black went into a slump during tournament time, barely making a dent in the
ACC's. She came to life against Michigan State, again using her quickness in
getting some key scores. Black rebounded well against UConn and LSU and had
some big baskets there as well, but surprisingly completely collapsed against
Maryland in the finals. The pressure may have gotten to her in that game. The
bottom line is that Black plays her best when she's relaxed and aggressive, just
having fun out there. This season, she'll get every opportunity to dominate
without worrying about who's coming in off the bench. She'll need to be a
little careful about fouling; picking up early fouls often led to her playing
tentatively. Black simply has to relax when she's in foul trouble and just
play her game. A high energy player like Chante needs to keep that energy
level up, because that's what her teammates expect and need of her.

Best Games: St John's (16 points, 8 rebounds); Wake Forest (13 points, 14
rebounds, 3 blocks); Maryland (19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals);
Tennessee (10 points, 5 rebounds); Miami (10 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 3
blocks); Michigan State (10 points, 7 rebounds)

Statwise: Chante has already cracked the 100-block mark at Duke, getting
111 in 2 seasons. She's on her way to zooming past #2 on that list, Sarah
Sullivan, but she'll have a hard time catching Alison Bales.

Strengths: Quickness, leaping ability, rebounding, shot-blocking
Needs To Work On: Face-up game, getting to the foul line, finishing with
Role: Starting post player
Must: Hit open shots, attack the basket

** Wanisha Smith 5-11 G Jr. 7.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.4 apg

Season Recap: For the second year in a row, Nish was asked to move to a new
position on the floor. At times, she excelled as an off guard. However, the
end of the season saw her trapped in a horrible shooting slump that limited her
confidence and her playing time. Smith didn't score in the final two games of
the year and only averaged 4 ppg in her last 8. A 41% shooter from three as a
frosh, that marked plunged to 32% as a soph. Nish had fewer minutes to work
with and fewer opportunities to shoot; which was a weird adjustment,
considering that she was ostensibly the starting shooting guard. The fact of
the matter is that last year's team had a lot more firepower and more players
who needed their attempts. Nish did her best to adjust, racking up 121 assists
and cutting way back on her turnovers (74 vs 134 in 2005).

Nish started the year pressing too much on offense, and the result was that her
shot looked rushed. Quite honestly, she was looking over her shoulder at Abby
Waner, fearful of getting pulled. The two guards yo-yo'd back and forth in the
starting lineup, with Smith getting 20 starts and Waner 15. Nish eventually
relaxed and hit some big shots down the stretch against Texas, putting that
game away. That sparked a nice run of games in December where she was scoring,
rebounding and setting up her teammates.

Smith's ACC season got off to a rough start when she fouled out in just twelve
minutes against Wake, but picked up when she hit several key first half shots
against Maryland on the road. Smith had big scoring games against Georgia Tech
and Clemson. She was fantastic against Tennessee, carving the Lady Vols up when
the Devils spread the floor and making life miserable for their guards on
defense. Her best game of the season was against Maryland at home, when she
took over the point guard reins when Harding went down with an injury. She hit
big shots, set up her teammates nicely and was an emotional leader firing up the
crowd and the rest of the team.

She was one of the few Duke players to shoot well against UNC on the road, but
that was her last real impact game. The month of March was a brutal one for
her as she shot just 27% in her last 10 games. Her shooting slump had other
ramifications for Duke. Without her on the floor, Duke lost one of its best
defenders and playmakers. Sure, she made the occasional bad pass, but her
replacement Waner was even more erratic. Without that tough, physical defense
and emotion that she brought to the court, the Devils suffered. Duke needs her
on the floor this season, confident and ready to create her own offense.

The good news is that she's making yet another position change, this time to
wing. This is a good thing because it's her most natural position at this
level. At the same time, she'll still be able to display what's really set her
apart in her first two seasons: her passing. Duke often uses its wings to pass
into its posts, so look for Nish to find Bales & Black early & often this
season. On offense, Smith will rely a lot less on her jumper and will be
ordered to attack the rim much more. Nish only made it to the foul line 61
times last year. That number will need to move above 100 this season if Duke's
to be successful. Smith will also be expected to play tough, physical defense
on some very talented wing players. Nish is strong enough to push around quick
wings and quick enough to stay with taller players and nudge them out of their
comfort zones.

Smith will have a different relationship with Waner this season. Last year,
they were competing for a starting role. This season, they will need to find
ways to complement each other as they play together. Look for Nish to drive
and dish to an open Waner for three, and for Abby to get steals and look to
Nish on the break. Smith will also wind up guarding the toughest scorer on the
opposing team, whether it's at 2-guard or wing.

Smith has come to terms with her slump at the end of the year, with Coach G
telling her not to let it define the year that she really had. Wanisha was in
a tough situation and did a lot of dirty work to help her team, and that should
be recognized. This year, she needs to emerge as a leader and mature as a
scorer. More than anything, Smith needs to harness her emotions and the joy
she feels in the game, and let her teammates feed off that energy. On a team
with soft-spoken, quiet personalities, Wanisha needs to be loud and bring some
of the badass nature that came so naturally to Currie. The opportunity is
there for her, if she's ready.

Best Games: Old Dominion (3 points, 11 assists, 3 steals); Colorado State
(13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists); Georgia Tech (13 points, 2 rebounds, 2
steals); Maryland (15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists); UNC (16 points, 5
rebounds, 2 steals)

Strengths: Defense, strength, penetration, passing
Needs To Work On: Attacking the basket
Role: Starting wing
Must: Get to the foul line, look for her offense, feed the post, start leading

** Emily Waner 5-7 G Jr. 2.3 ppg, 36% 3FG

Season Recap: Emily had a rough season, due mostly to injury. After sitting out
a year when she transferred from Colorado, Waner was hoping to earn some backup
minutes. Instead, she had a severe stress fracture in her foot and didn't even
make it onto the floor for 12 games. Em noted that while it took a little while
to recover physically, the real problem was that she lost confidence. As a
result, she went through long shooting slumps. Despite that, she still managed
to shoot 36% from three, which is certainly quite good. There were other
problems that arose as a result of her injuries and loss of confidence; she
looked tense while running the offense and made mistakes with the ball, and her
defense was average at best.

This was a bit of a disappointment for everyone involved, considering that she
had had a fine freshman year at Colorado. The good news is that she has two
years to make an impact at Duke, and there is certainly an opportunity for
playing time. She noted that Coach G wants her to be a shooter this year
rather than a pure point guard. With both Foley and Currie gone, Duke needs
someone to come in and bust zones. How well Waner can embrace this role will
determine how much she plays.

Best Games: Arkansas State (8 points, 2 assists); Virginia (7 points); Virginia
Tech (6 points, 3 rebounds)

Strengths: Shooting, passing
Needs To Work On: Defense
Role: Shooter, ballhandler
Must: Release shots quickly, take the open shots