Duke Women's Basketball: Preview/Review, 2006-2007
The autumn leaves are falling, the air is getting crisper, practice has begun
and Duke's first exhibition game is just past. Once again, it's time to take a
look back at last year and a long look at 2007. As always, the report is
organized as follows:
I. The Season In Review
II. Player-by-Player Evaluation: Seniors And Players Not Returning
III. Player-by-Player Evaluation: Players Returning
IV. A Look At The Class of 2009
V. Season Preview
I. 2005-2006: The Season In Review
2006 was the year that the ACC truly established itself as the basketball
superpower it had long purported itself to be. Duke's team in 2006 was one of
its best ever, despite the fact that it didn't capture the ACC regular season or
tournament titles. Indeed, the 2006 squad was much a much tougher one than
several Duke teams that accomplished both of those feats. That was proven by
their rampage through the NCAA tournament that ended with that heartbreaking
loss to Maryland. That was a game that Duke had in hand but couldn't
quite close out a Terp squad that never quit. The bitterness of that loss
lingers on even now, but the players have said that they plan to use it as
motivation. Regardless, the level of achievement by the Blue Devils in recent
years has been remarkable: they've gone either to the Elite Eight or Final Four
every year since 2002. While that loss in the title game was crushing, there's
not a sense that the window has closed for the Devils. With the constant
stream of new talent coming into the program, there's no reason why Duke can't
compete for another Final Four this year.
Last year's team had a full complement of players for the first time in a while.
It was a good thing, considering that the usual injuries wound up redshirting
two players and making 2 others ineffective. That full rotation of nine was
more than enough to take on the country, considering its balance. Duke had
size, shooting, strength, power, speed and defensive tenacity. They held
opponents to 35% shooting from the floor and 29% from three. Duke forced 21
turnovers and blocked 8 shots a game. Considering that the Devils had had to
deal with a lot of players out of position in 2005, it was a relief to see
Lindsey Harding back at point guard, a move that meant everyone could go back
to their normal roles.
Harding let Duke play pressure defense again. While Duke went after steals
aggressively (11 per game), they were also content to funnel opponents inside
to Alison Bales (120 blocks) or Chante Black (65 blocks). On offense, Coach G
made it her mission to try to get the ball inside as much as possible. In
particular, she wanted to get Bales and Black involved extensively, a mission
that didn't always work out. Her rock was Monique Currie in more ways than
one. With a team of players who were often too nice to aggressively attack on
offense (often resulting in crises of confidence), perpetual bad-ass Currie
served not only to bail the team out when plays broke down, but to inspire her
teammates not to back down from anyone.
The 2006 squad was an experienced one that returned virtually every player,
along with Harding (back from a year's suspension). Though Harding naturally
fell into the role of team leader and led the team in assists, she had a lot of
help sharing the ball. Three different players had 100 assists or more, and
Currie just missed that mark with 99. Jess Foley & Mistie Williams had over 50
assists apiece, showing just how unselfish this squad was. Sometimes too
unselfish--some of those 17 turnovers a game came from overpassing, but that
was ameliorated by the team's 50% mark from the floor and 39% from three.
Harding's return and the contributions of aggressive frosh Abby Waner
rejuvenated Duke's offense. The Devils scored 12 ppg more than they did in
2005 and were only held under 70 points on 6 occasions.
Duke's non-conference slate was not quite as challenging as in previous years,
but there were still plenty of solid mid-major and top-40 teams on there to
give a decent challenge. The Devils started the season by challenging
themselves with 5 games in 9 days, with 2 of them on the road. Their first
game was against Penn State. That's a perennially tough program surrounded by
controversy that fielded a weaker squad. Still, they had a 20-game winning
streak at home and played Duke tough in the first half. Bales came off the
bench to break up PSU's zone with 15 points and 9 rebounds and Abby Waner had a
nice debut with 15 points, 6 assists and 6 steals as Duke's pressure opened up a
big second half lead. The Devils used that pressure on an undersized Old
Dominion squad (another always tough program) and blew them out quickly. Waner
led all scorers with 17.
Returning home, Duke dismantled Fairfield as 6 players got into double figures.
The Devils hosted the Duke Classic and overwhelmed Arkansas State in the first
game. Duke played a young but talented Auburn team for the Classic
championship and had a small but significant lead at the half, but couldn't
quite shake them. In the second half, Auburn cut the lead to 7 before the
Devils embarked on a 22-0 run that put them away, with Currie, Waner and Mistie
Williams leading the way.
Duke's first big test of the season was on the road against Texas in a
nationally televised game. It was not a pretty one; the young Longhorns made a
lot of mistakes, but Duke was also throwing the ball away. The game was tight
and physical throughout (Currie decked a Texas player trying to create some
separation) and Duke led by just 1 with ten minutes left. Duke bore down and
dominated the offensive boards and held Texas scoreless the last three minutes
of the game for a 14 point win. Duke concluded their Texas tour by turning a
relatively tight game at the half with TCU into a rout just minutes into the
second half. Laura Kurz had a great game, especially when Currie went to the
bench with foul trouble.
After the initial exam break, Duke held Ball State to just 9 first half points,
which is about all one needs to know about that particular contest. A decent
Colorado State team didn't fare much better as Duke outscored them 54-18.
After X-mas, Duke ventured out to sunny San Diego to play in USD's tournament
in the Jenny Craig Pavilion (aka "the slim gym"). The Devils massacred a
decent St John's club that would later give Maryland a hard time in the NCAA
tournament and had even less trouble with host USD in the finals. It was time
for ACC play to begin.
Duke kicked things off with a weird 11am game with Wake Forest in Cameron.
After a sleepy start, Currie made a huge effort play and kick-started a run as
the Devils won by over 40 points. Florida State was a tougher foe but Duke
broke out to an early lead; a Currie triple-double held off the determined
Seminoles. That set up a huge road game with Maryland, a team desperate to
beat Duke. Playing in front of a crowd of over 15,000, Duke shot 61% in the
first half to take a 17 point lead. The Terps would make a couple of comebacks,
but late threes by Currie and Foley ended that threat. Duke forced
the Terps into 24 turnovers and Chante Black dominated Crystal Langhorne,
holding her to 0 rebounds.
That game was the first of 4 straight on the road, and it was certainly a fine
way to start. The Devils struggled against Georgia Tech, shooting just 33%
from the floor. After a close game throughout, Black and Smith scored 16 of
Duke's final 25 points and hit some clutch free throws to give them the win.
Next came #22 Boston College, a team that Duke had beaten in the NCAA
tournament in 2005. The Devils were down 8 with ten minutes to go and unable
to hit anything. Currie, Harding and Smith brought Duke all the way back and
closed the game with a 17-2 run. The Devils continued to get to know the
Boston area by crushing Holy Cross 2 nights later.
Duke ran NC State out of Cameron with a 23-4 edge in points off turnovers and a
20-2 advantage in fast break points to get a routine 20 point win. Duke won
despite foul trouble from Currie and a breakout game from 6-7 Gillian Goring.
That set up the showdown with #1 Tennessee in sold-out Cameron. The Lady Vols
had beaten 7 ranked opponents and were undefeated, thanks to some solid senior
play and the all-around talent of frosh superstar Candace Parker. The game was
close in the early going as Duke was forcing shots. Black entered the game and
raised the team's energy level, tying up the game. Foley came off the bench
and hit a three to give Duke the lead. The Devils went into the locker room
with a 7 point lead. Duke then quickly extended that to double-digits as they
spread the floor and used precise passing to carve up Tennessee's defense. The
game's highlight came as Harding stole the ball from Zolman, zoomed toward the
basket, and scored over Parker, drawing the foul. The Devils reclaimed the #1
ranking, knowing that they had many challenges ahead.
The Devils disposed of ACC doormat Clemson without much difficulty, setting up
another sold-out match-up against arch-rival UNC. The Devils got UNC star
Erlana Larkins in foul trouble in the first half and as a result nearly ran the
Heels off the floor, settling for a 13-point first half lead. Larkins brought
the team back almost entirely on her own in the second, hitting 2 threes over
Black. The Heels kept attacking finally took the lead late in the game. That
came when Abby Waner was slowed by a minor knee injury but Smith had been
yanked for a crucial turnover. As a result, the Heels were torching Duke off
the dribble. The Devils had their chances at the end, but some missed free
throws and UNC's clutch foul shooting gave them the upset.
Duke had a week off after that and had to go on the road against Virginia Tech.
Carolina hangover was definitely in effect, as Duke looked sloppy and
uninspired. Veterans Currie & Williams shouldered most of the load in this
game, as Duke would let up after going up by as much as 20. The Devils then
faced Virginia in Durham and were in control the whole time. After a fairly
tight first seven minutes, Harding sparked a 19-7 run that seemed to put Duke
in command. The Hoos fought back in the second half to cut the lead to 6, but
a quick timeout and gentle counseling from Coach G inspired the team to play
with more intensity. Harding once again was the catalyst, both in terms of her
own scoring and setting up Williams.
Next up was another big match-up with Maryland, and the result was an intense
battle. The Devils trailed by as many as 10 in the first half as the Terps
simply hit a ton of tough shots. Only Smith and Currie (both DC area
stalwarts) kept Duke in the game, getting 21 of 33 first half points. The
Devils stormed back in the second half with a 19-3 run as the crowd fired the
team up. Harding and Currie led the charge to go up by 6 with twelve minutes
left. Maryland fought back to tie the game, but Foley hit a timely three. A
Bales block led to a Currie three point play that salted the game away, and
Duke hit their foul shots down the stretch. Mo was brilliant with 31 points,
abusing star Terp forward Marissa Coleman.
Currie followed up that showing with a 43-point masterpiece against a pesky
Miami squad in Coral Gables. Duke had a big lead throughout much of the game
and a 7 point lead with 36 seconds left, but a series of missed foul shots and
dumb mistakes sent the game into 2 overtimes. Currie was cool from the line,
sinking 12 of 12 foul shots in the second overtime alone. Harding had an awful
night with 9 turnovers, but blocked a potentially game winning shot at the end
of the first overtime. The Devils then crushed Virginia Tech on Senior Night,
going up by 20 in the first half and cruising from there.
That set up a confrontation with the Heels in Chapel Hill for the regular
season championship. Both teams had just 1 loss in conference play and were
looking to get the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament. Neither team shot well, but
Duke was especially awful, sinking just 3 of 21 threes. Duke was down 7 at the
half and then fell behind by 16 point with seven minutes to go. The Devils
finally got serious with four minutes left and cut the lead to 5 but made
numerous errors and couldn't get any closer.
Duke clinched a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament by beating Virginia Tech in
the first round of the ACC Tournament. That game was a slopfest, featuring 31
turnovers from Duke and 27 from VPI. Maryland was next, and the Terps finally
got that long-awaited win against the Devils in the ACC semis. Maryland
absolutely shot the lights out and took a big lead, before Duke stormed back
with a 16-0 run. The Terps regrouped and went to their post players, pounding
away for 9 straight points. After 14 straight losses to Duke, this was a big
win for Brenda Frese's program, though they would go on to lose to UNC in the
The Devils were not exactly setting the world on fire entering the NCAA
tournament, but they had a few factors in their favor. The long layoff
between their last game and the NCAA's meant getting some much-needed rest
and practice time. This was key for players like Alison Bales, who was
clearly burned out and was underperforming. Second, Duke got to play
their first two games in nearby Norfolk, and got to stay on the East Coast
for the regionals. They also got to avoid both Tennessee and UNC in their
region. Third, none of the teams Duke was playing in their region matched
up very well against the Devils. The only real concern was potentially having
to play UConn in what would essentially be a road game in Bridgeport.
Duke met Southern in the first round and had to play through some early rust.
The Devils led by 24 at the half but didn't play well on offense. Duke turned
that around in the second half, shooting 65% and holding their opponent to just
27 points for the game--the lowest total in the history of the tournament.
Against Southern Cal, Duke blew out to an early 15 point lead, thanks to Bales
intimidating the smaller Women of Troy. The Devils then put the game away
early in the second half as Currie started to get going. Happily, Duke was
playing with a lot more enthusiasm and energy than they had been late in the
regular season. Bales in particular had a great game, with 22 points, 9
rebounds and 6 blocks.
Duke's enthusiasm persisted against a very good Michigan State team. The
Devils held a small lead for most of the first half but had trouble stopping the
Spartans. A Waner three at the end of the first half gave Duke momentum, and a
10-0 early in the second half put the game out of reach. Everyone got a chance
to touch the ball, and that offensive balance buried MSU, whose stars were
routinely denied good shots.
That set up the showdown with UConn. This was not a vintage Husky squad nor
did it match up all that well with Duke. Still, they always played their
best ball in the postseason and their crowd had to help. The Huskies
played great defense on Duke, double-teaming Currie and harassing Harding into a
bad game. Coach G went to a lineup featuring Bales and Black together, and they
sparked a 10-0 run that gave Duke an early lead. Neither team shot well as Duke
built up a 5 point lead at the half, thanks to their post play and some high
energy from Waner. UConn stormed back to take the lead in the second half and
the Devils fell behind by 6, but Waner led a 9-0 run for Duke that gave them
back the lead. UConn went up 4 with six minutes left, but Bales and Currie
tied the game twice. After UConn hit a three, Duke tied the game up and then
went ahead on a Bales power-up. The Huskies sent the game into overtime with a
jumper and held when Duke couldn't get a decent look at the end. After some
free throws and tough defense, Duke went up by 5 in OT. However, Duke couldn't
extend its lead, and the Huskies had a chance to tie it up with second left.
Charde Houston missed a chippie, and the ball dropped in Currie's hands as the
game ended and Duke went on to its 4th Final Four.
In Boston, Duke matched up against the team that eliminated them in 2005:
Louisiana State. Coach G decided to focus on their stars, wing Seimone
Augustus and center Sylvia Fowles. The Tigers weren't a great shooting team,
and Gail decided to double-team Fowles with Bales and Williams and had Smith
shadow Augustus. On offense, she slowed things down a bit in order to
frustrate LSU. Bales opened things up with 2 early blocks, letting the Tigers
know that they'd have to hit jumpers to score. Meanwhile, Duke slowly put
together a 15-2 run over nine minutes to take control of the game and led by 11
at the half. Williams stepped up in the second half, scoring 6 quick points to
put Duke up by 14. After an LSU run, Williams scored twice to put Duke up by
10; LSU was done and Duke was going to meet Maryland, who had defeated UNC in
the national semis. Duke had Maryland on the ropes in the national title
game--they blew out to a big early lead but missed some chippies here and there
that would have really put the Terps away and had to settle for a 10 point
lead. As brilliant as Williams was against LSU, she was horrible against
the Terps and couldn't hit anything. Bales and Currie were both terrific; Ali
in particular was pulling out moves that I had never seen her use. And this
was against two top-notch post players in Crystal Langhorne & Laura Harper.
The closer Maryland got, the more Duke started to freeze up. Still, it took a
miracle three from Kristi Toliver to send the game into overtime. Lindsey
Harding fouled out and Duke simply couldn't stop the Terps from getting to the
foul line, and the title had slipped away. It was a devastating loss--Waner
was inconsolable, feeling that she had blown the game by missing a free throw
and taking some bad shots.
There's no question that Duke tightened up in the second half, but a big part of
that was the pressure that Maryland put on Duke with their offense. The Terps
got a ton of scoring from their top six players and just never stopped coming.
The difficulty for Duke was finding a balance between constantly attacking
extemporaneously and making the right decisions on a regular basis. In other
words, a read-and-react motion attack and adhering to set plays. Coach G gives
her players a lot of freedom, but also yanks in the reins when someone makes a
mistake. For some of her players, the result is that they become afraid to
make mistakes, and good opponents can sense that sort of tentative body
language and take advantage of it. That's why UNC has had Duke's number the
past couple of years--Larkins' body language is such that she can play within a
system but never doubts herself. The big adjustment for Duke this year will be
playing without the one player who never doubted herself--Monique Currie.
A team tends to take on the personality of its leaders, and for Duke to maximize
its potential in 2007, Harding and Bales have to lead with confidence and
aggression. They are both defensive-minded players who have deferred to others
throughout their entire careers. Now it will be time for both of them to lead
by example--to share the ball as they always have, but to prove to everyone
that they can take over a game when needed. In a year when expectations will
have ebbed, Duke will have a unique opportunity to make their mark on college
II. Player-by-Player Evaluation: Seniors and Players Not Returning
** Monique Currie 6-0 F Sr 16.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 42% 3FG
Notable 2006 Achievements:
All-Tournament, NCAA Final Four
All-America, Senior CLASS Award
AP All-America, Second Team
All-ACC Tournament, Second Team
Wade Trophy Finalist
All-ACC, First Team
ACC Player of the Week
MVP, Surf 'n Slam Classic
All-Tournament, Duke Classic
Season Recap: Mo's individual numbers in 2006 weren't quite as amazing as
they were in 2005, but then they didn?t have to be. With so many other good
players coming to the team and Harding returning, Currie was free to roam
around the court a bit more. She shored up the one major weakness in her game
(three point shooting) and turned it into a strength. By staying for a fifth
year, she carried Duke to only its second national title game ever and entered
its annals as one of its few players to compete in two Final Fours. (She was
on the team for the 2003 FF, but was injured that year.) Along the way, Mo
tore her way through record books. I won't repeat what I have written in the
Statwise section below, but suffice it to say that only Alana Beard has placed
so high on so many different top ten lists. Beyond the numbers, Mo brought a
toughness and an attitude that was infectious. She expected not only to win,
but to kick ass and take names while doing it. Any opponent who dared try to
challenge her physically was in for a big surprise, because Mo didn't back
down from anyone. Her imposing physical strength combined with her body
control made her very difficult to stop. When she added a consistent jumper to
her arsenal, the result was a player who could score 30 or more points a night
if she felt like it. Fortunately for her teammates and coach, Currie was all
about sharing the ball.
There were still times, even as a fifth-year senior, when Mo's attention would
drift a bit, especially on the defensive end. One quick one word from Coach G
(usually designed to get her angry) would bring about a dramatic response.
Currie often laid back at the beginning of games, waiting to get a feel for the
action. That wasn't always to Duke?s advantage, because some of her
teammates expected her to start firing right away and froze up as a result.
Regardless, there was no tougher player during the last five minutes of a game
in the past two seasons than Currie. Even in games where she wasn't hitting
anything, she always found a way to make a difference down the stretch. She
didn't hit quite as many game-winning shots in 2006 as she did in 2005, but
she was and always will be Crunch-Time Currie.
In terms of scoring, Mo was quite consistent. There were only two games where
she failed to crack double-digits: an early blowout with Arkansas State and a
game against Virginia where she got info foul trouble and just couldn't hit
anything. Currie followed up that stinker by lighting up Marissa Coleman for
31 points and then breaking Duke's single-game scoring record with an absurd
43 against Miami. Those were two of her nine games over 20 points. One could
go on all day about her great performances from the season. She dominated the
taller Dewanna Bonner of Auburn with her jumper, scored 8 of Duke's last 10
points in closing out Texas, and cranked out a triple-double against Florida
State (only the second one in Duke history). Currie averaged 25 ppg in four
contests against Maryland. Currie got tougher on the boards down the stretch,
grabbing 4 or more rebounds in 14 of her last 16 games. The only regret Coach
G had on the season was not getting the ball to Currie more in the national
title game, and I agree; Mo rattled in some tough jumpers in that game and
should have been given the opportunity to really go off on Coleman again.
Currie was the toughest player to ever lace ?em up for Duke. She deserved her
many accolades and the respect she received from her teammates and other players
around the country. Currie was the perfect combination of playground warrior
and technically skilled master of the game. Mo went on to become the #3 pick
in the WNBA draft, going to Charlotte. The Sting are a brutally awful club and
she struggled at times, but I expect her to improve dramatically next season.
Mo's currently staying sharp with a run in an Israeli pro league. If Duke
can retain even a portion of the toughness she brought to the program and find
a single player who is as tough in the clutch as she was, then the program will
be in great shape this year.
Best Games: Texas (23 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists); Maryland (18 points,
3 rebounds, 3 assists); Boston College (20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists);
NC State (20 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists); Maryland (31 points, 5
rebounds, 2 assists); Miami (43 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists); Maryland
(18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists); UConn (14 points, 9 rebounds, 2
assists); Maryland (22 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists)
Statwise: Mo was a monstrous presence in the Duke record book, behind only
Alana Beard and Chris Moreland for total impact. Mo finished third in
scoring with 2122 points, only the third Duke player to cross the 2K
point threshold. She was 5th in scoring average, 3rd in field goals made,
2nd in field goals attempted, 3rd in free throws made, 3rd in free throws
attempted, 6th in FT%, 4th in rebounding with 874, 9th in rebounding
average, 6th in assists, 4th in steals, 10th in blocked shots, 2nd in
double-figure scoring games, 4th in wins and 5th in charges taken. Truly
one of the all-time greats at Duke and in the ACC.
** Jessica Foley 5-11 G Sr. 5.6 ppg, 1.8 apg, 40% 3FG
Season Recap: Jess was never a star at Duke, but she was truly one of its
greatest role players. In the tradition of players like Lauren Rice and
Michele Matyasovsky, Jess could be counted on to make big plays when it counted
and to subsume her offense without complaint otherwise. Foley willingly
stepped aside and allowed Abby Waner to develop, even though it meant
fewer minutes and shots. Never one to complain, Jess simply made sure to
take better shots. The result was improved FG% (from 39 to 44%) and improved
3FG% (from 36 to 40%). Foley will always be remembered for "The Shot" against
UConn, a play that will go down as one of the greatest in Duke history and
certainly as one of the more memorable plays of the decade.
Jess was a co-captain for this team and took that seriously. Even though her
shot attempts went way down, Coach G always wanted her in the game when things
were getting hairy. Foley had a way of calming down her teammates during
stressful situations and rarely made errors. The Tennessee game was a perfect
example of the impact she could have. With Cameron sold out and her team
looking a bit nervous, Coach G brought Jess in at the ten-minute mark. Foley
promptly buried a three that gave Duke its first lead. In the second half, she
hit another three that put the Lady Vols away. Against Maryland in Cameron,
Jess was misfiring in the first half. However, when Harding went down with an
injury and Waner left the game with foul trouble, Foley merely scored 10
points, including back-to-back threes and a drive that finished the Terps off.
In the national title game, Jess came through again with several big shots and 2
clutch free throws in overtime.
There were countless other small moments during her senior year and throughout
her entire career that Jess made a big difference on the court. A big shot
here, a slick pass there, and even just a few important moments handling the
ball and taking care of it made a difference. Beyond that, Foley was a beloved
teammate. Everyone loved her easygoing personality and self-deprecating humor.
She gave great interviews. In short, she was the sort of player who made things
easier and more fun for both her teammates and her coaches. She was drafted
into the WNBA but an injury forced her to leave training camp. Right now,
she's doing quite nicely in her native Australia's WNBL. Hopefully, she'll
make it back to the W at some point.
Best Games: St. John's (14 points, 4 rebounds); Tennessee (8 points); Maryland
(12 points, 2 rebounds); Maryland (10 points)
Statwise: Jess didn't quite crack the thousand point club, but she did finish
2nd all-time in threes with 175. Foley was also second all-time in free throw
percentage at 82% and 10th in assists with 310.
** Mistie Williams 6-2 C Sr. 11.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 62% FG
Notable 2006 Achievements:
All-ACC, Second Team
All-Tournament, Surf 'n Slam Classic
All-Tournament, Duke Classic
Senior CLASS Award Nominee
Season Recap: Mistie was a picture of efficiency and reliability as a senior,
after a summer of working on her game at Pete Newell's camp. Williams has
worked as hard on her game as any Duke player, going from a slightly overweight
bruiser who had stamina problems to a lean but powerful post player who could
score in the post against anyone and showed off many other skills as well.
Mistie worked on not only her physique, but her fluidity and flexibility as
well. She added range on her jumper, looking quite comfortable from the foul
line. Her 62% from the field was the 4th best single-season mark in Duke
history. She was able to do it by adding a couple of countermoves, but
certainly also benefited from having Currie and Smith feed her from the wing.
Certainly, it didn't hurt that Coach G wanted to build the team from
inside-out, with Mistie as a top scoring option.
The one area where Mistie improved most as a senior was stepping it up against
ranked opponents. Good teams looked to double-team her and neutralize her
influence on games in the past, but Williams made a point of finding ways to
attack strong foes. Mistie scored and rebounded right at her average against
top 25 opponents. Some games were more impressive than others. She dominated
LSU to the tune of 14 & 9, got 14 & 10 against Maryland, and 16 & 7 vs UNC. It
was unfortunate that her final game was such a disaster, because Mistie had been
so strong in the NCAA tournament. Williams started the year by dominating Texas
with her power in the second half after having to sit out with foul trouble in
the first. She was brilliant against Tennessee, bodying up Candace Parker and
picking them apart with her passing. Her maturity was on display against
Virginia Tech when she struggled at first but just came coming. Even when left
alone inside, Williams battled to the end like against UNC in Cameron. When
teams didn't double-team her, she punished them by posting up and sealing off
defenders for easy scores, like against Virginia.
Williams parlayed her improved efficiency and mature decision-making into a
roster spot in the WNBA with Houston. After she made the team, Mistie quickly
became a fan favorite and made an impact later in the year when the team had
some injury problems. Mistie's nature as a fiery, demonstrative sort of
player who played hard in every game served her well as a pro, and I expect her
to have an expanded role with the Comets next season. Duke will certainly find
it difficult to reproduce a player with her aggressiveness, power and skill
set. The Devils will miss her every bit as much as they do Monique Currie,
just for very different reasons.
Best Games: Texas (14 points, 5 rebounds); FSU (16 points, 6 rebounds, 3
assists); Tennessee (10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists); UNC (16 points, 7
rebounds); Maryland (14 points, 10 rebounds); LSU (14 points, 9 rebounds)
Statwise: Mistie leaves Duke as its 8th leading scorer with 1409 points.
She was also #8 in field goals made, #5 in FG%, #8 in free throws made, #7
in free throws attempted, #5 in rebounds (with an even 800), #5 in blocked
shots with 131, #8 in double-figure scoring games, #3 in charges taken
with 48, and most impressively, #1 in career wins with 127. All of these
numbers speak to her durability and consistency.
** Laura Kurz 6-1 F So. 5.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 44% 3FG
Season Recap: Laura was a victim of a numbers game at Duke last year, in that
there were simply too many players ahead of her in the rotation; and she
couldn't make a switch to the post stick. Coach G started off the year wanting
to get her playing time and so noted that she'd try to get Laura minutes at the
four. The reality is that Laura isn't a post player despite being 6-2 and
simply wasn't strong enough to play the position against good teams. With
Currie, the Waners, Smith and Foley on the team, there just weren't enough
minutes to go around for a player whose strengths were not quite impressive
enough to mask her weaknesses. While an excellent shooter, Laura's low release
point made it difficult for her to get shots off against good opponents, and
Coach G didn't trust her defense and ballhandling enough to put her out there.
On a more shorthanded team, it would have been interesting to see what Kurz
could have done. She can really shoot and moves well without the ball; in an
offense built around her that set up multiple screens, she could be a huge
scorer. That's why her move to Villanova is perfect for all parties involved.
That club uses a much slower system and values shooters above all else. Kurz
can work on her body for a year and learn the offense and then immediately step
in at 2 or 3 and get 8-10 shots a game. Unlike some past Duke transfers, I
think Laura will have a lot of success at her new school, which will be a much
better fit for her.
Laura would show flashes of brilliance throughout the year. Against Old
Dominion, she unleashed a slick behind-the-back dribble-drive that froze her
defender on the way to the basket. Against Arkansas State, Kurz hit threes,
stuck back misses, ran the floor and played strong defense. When she got into
the flow of the game, she could be a difference-maker. Laura had a nice run of
games in December where she was in double digits 4 out of 5 times, all of them
in blowout wins. Against Ball State, she blocked a couple of shots and scored
on some post-ups, in addition to her usual good shooting. Coach G was trying
to get her meaningful minutes early in games; against Maryland, Kurz stepped in
for post players in foul trouble and hit a momentum-changing three at the end of
the first half.
Kurz felt the squeeze of a rotation shortening and didn't play much the rest of
the ACC season. The main exception was the Virginia Tech game on Senior Day,
when she exploded for 11 points in twelve minutes. The Hokies were a perfect
opponent, because they were neither that strong nor that quick. Kurz was no
match for the power of most post players, and still made some mistakes at the
defensive end against smaller opponents. At Villanova, her best position will
be at 2-guard. She'll have a height advantage against opponents, which should
help negate some of that quickness deficit. In addition, her experience in the
post at Duke should help when she's trying to post up smaller guards. Above all
else, Kurz needs to raise the point of release on her jump shot, or else she
simply won't be able to get it off against quick foes. In addition, she has to
get stronger and work on her passing and decision-making. All-in-all, this is
probably the best decision Laura could make at this point; she stuck around
long enough to at least give it a try in Duke's system, and I wish her good
luck and a productive career in the Big East.
Best Games: Old Dominion (11 points, 4 rebounds); Arkansas State (19 points, 7
rebounds); TCU (15 points, 5 rebounds); Virginia Tech (11 points, 2 rebounds)
Statwise: Laura will leave Duke as its best-ever three point shooter by
percentage, at 44.8%.