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Duke Lassoes Texas

Duke 80, Texas 52. December 10, 2006. Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In Duke's victory over Texas, the Devils shot a season-low 38.6% and the
Longhorns hit 39.2% of their shots, which was the best mark against Duke this
season. Texas was the first team to score over 50 points against Duke this
year, in fact. Furthermore, Texas jumped out to a 7-0 lead and still had a
15-11 advantage nine minutes into the game. Despite all of that, Duke fought
back, took a double-digit lead going into halftime and blew the Longhorns out
in the second half.

Duke was able to capitalize on certain tendencies the Longhorns exhibited at
both ends of the floor and exploit them repeatedly. What it boiled down to for
both teams was a simple matter of trust. Abby Waner noted the team's improved
chemistry has allowed each player to read each other better on the floor, and
that this gives everyone more trust in each other. Texas coach Jody Conradt
ascribed her team's turnover trouble and propensity for fouling to a lack of
trust in each other.

The book on Texas is that they always play straight-up man-to-man defense and
never deviate from this. They rely on their quickness, athleticism and
physical play to stop their opponents. That makes them vulnerable off the
dribble for teams quick and daring enough to attack inside and either score or
draw contact. This Texas team is still quite young. Starters Carla Cortijo
and Earnesia Williams are redshirt frosh, while Erica Arriaran is a soph.
Their only senior is center Tiffany Jackson, one of the top players in the
country and a former Duke recruit. Jackson had played quite well against Duke
in the past and Coach G was going to find a way to stop her, no matter what.
The problem for Texas is that they didn't have another post player to help out
Jackson on the boards, with Mari Mergerson out with an injury. More crucially,
their young backcourt hasn't gelled enough to rotate over to stop penetration.
Since Conradt would never use a zone to force Duke to hit some jump shots, the
Devils knew that if they were persistent and opportunistic, they'd have a great
chance to get plenty of points at the foul line.

On defense, Jackson was a difficult assignment because she can score in so
many ways. She could score on traditional post-ups or short hooks if she got
good position. She could put the ball on the deck and attack the basket or
pass out to an opener shooter if the defense collapsed on her. Jackson could
also hit jump shots if left open. Coach G didn't want her to get comfortable
at either end of the floor. On defense, she alternated Alison Bales and Carrem
Gay on her for some different looks. Whenever she got the ball near the basket,
she'd send a guard to double-team her and try to slap away at the ball when she
brought it down. Coach G would also rotate players over from the weakside to
try and block shots. The results were spectacular: 4-13 shooting, 7 turnovers
and 0-1 from the line. The fact that Duke got her in quick foul trouble (3 in
the first half) made her a bit more tentative at that end, though the Devils
never were able to foul her out.

The only player that Coach G ordered her guards to never leave was Arriaran, a
dangerous shooter who isn't afraid to let it fly. She only got 2 three point
attempts in this game, hitting both. The latter was a meaningless shot taken
in the final seconds, however. Otherwise, she was repeatedly frustrated in
trying to get open, even pushing Harding out of the way in trying to set
herself up from mid-range. That left just forward Earnesia Williams to deal
with. Williams torched Duke in Austin last year before she went down with an
ACL tear and started off this game with 7 straight points on jumpers. None of
these were easy shots, but she sank them smoothly. Then she picked up 2 quick
fouls, the latter an offensive foul that Harding took. In retrospect, that
charge taken by Lindsey was one of the most important of the game, because it
slowed Texas' offense down to a crawl. After Williams scored 7 points in two
minutes, the rest of the team scored 20 points in eighteen minutes.

What happens when your top three scorers have been neutralized? Either
someone else steps up or else you struggle. For Duke, Harding, Bales & Abby
Waner couldn't hit anything either. They combined for 5-17 shooting from the
floor. Of course, Duke found other sources of scoring in the first frame, with
8 points from their bench and a breakout 11 from Wanisha Smith. Nish took over
the game with her aggressiveness off the dribble, her rebounding and even a
timely shot or two. The score was 9-4 when Nish pulled up for a three and then
found Bales inside for a basket. Harding tied the score at 11 with a floater
(her only field goal of the half), but Jackson scored twice to give her team a
4 point edge.

Duke countered with an 8-0 run fueled by stalwart post defense. Harding drove
and fed the ball to Bridgette Mitchell, who slithered her way in for a hoop.
Mitchell then blocked Jackson, and at the other end, Smith missed a driving
layup. She got the ball back, missed again, got it back again and was fouled.
This was the game in microcosm for Duke--they were more aggressive than Texas
and tended to be in the right place at the right time. Bales put Duke ahead
with 2 free throws, and Smith stole a Carla Cortijo pass and stormed down the
floor for a score. With about nine minutes to go in the half, Duke went ahead

Arriaran broke free for a three, but Smith countered with a drive where she
was fouled and hit both shots. After Texas scored again, Duke held a 21-20
lead that was soon to baloon with a 19-4 run. The run was fueled by Duke
trapping in 3/4 court play and in the halfcourt. Interestingly, the run
coincided with the entrance of Emily Waner, who had struggled all season. Abby
hit a tough jumper with the shot clock running down after Emily found her in the
corner, and then got a steal. After a free throw, Emily got a rebound and had
the ball near the top of the key. Seeing a lane, she chose to attack the
basket and sank a left-handed layup that made Cameron go crazy. Jackson hit a
basket against Joy Cheek, but Emily saw the same lane and had the same result.
Em then stole the ball from Cortijo. On that next sequence for Duke, Cheek had
2 offensive boards before she was fouled, hitting 2 shots. Arriaran broke free
for her last significant basket of the game to make it 30-24 with under four
minutes left.

Bales stole the ball and triggered a fast break that Abby finished on a pass
from Harding. Emily missed a three that would have brought the house down, but
Texas couldn't capitalize as Harding hit 2 freebies and then Smith followed that
up after another steal. Duke continued to throttle Texas defensively, scoring 4
more points on free throws to make it 40-24. Harding sagged off Cortijo just
enough for her to sink a three over her at the end of the first half. That
gave Texas a bit of momentum, but Duke still had a 13 point lead. The Devils
shot just 29% to Texas' 43%, but had a 14-2 edge in points off turnovers (Texas
had 18 in the first half alone, to just 7 for Duke) and a 15-4 advantage in
second chance points. Duke was 19-25 from the foul line while Texas was just
0-1, reflecting Duke's aggressive play.

After a flurry of steals to start the second half, Harding hit a three and
then dished to Smith for a fast break after she stole the ball. That stalled
Texas' momentum and the Longhorns were never able to get it back. Coach G said
that she kept waiting for a big Texas run to happen, but Duke was too aggressive
defensively and too smart on offense to allow it. The Devils were trying to
establish Bales in the post and Harding finally set her up for an easy score.
A. Waner had another steal and layup, and the Devils countered another Cortijo
trey with Bales finding Smith on a cut and A.Waner hitting E.Waner on a three
that gave Duke a 22 point lead five minutes into the second half.

Texas' last gasp came on a 9-4 run that cut the lead to 58-41 with twelve
minutes left and the ball, but Jackson came up short. Duke responded with
Smith finding Mitchell on a cut for a three point play, drawing Jackson's
fourth foul. That started a 6-0 run that blunted Texas's momentum once again
and had both teams simply playing out the string. Duke still outscored the
Longhorns 16-11 down the stretch as A.Waner scored twice, Harding scored twice
and both true frosh got buckets as well. The Devils shot much better in the
second half (47%) and held the Longhorns to just 35%. Duke forced an
astounding 33 turnovers, 18 of them off steals. The Longhorns were pounded
once again in points off turnovers and second-chance points, and their bench
proved to be of little help.

Coach G was pleased that although her team was young and not firing on all
cylinders, they proved to have a killer instinct. Once Duke got a bit of
separation, they did not let up. Conradt was impressed by Duke's
relentlessness as well and was disappointed that her team didn't play within
the moment, possession by possession. Most importantly, this Duke team is
finding different ways to attack on offense, knowing that their defensive
effort is always solid. Duke will head to Cancun after finals to play 3 games
in 3 days. One will be against another top 25 team in Bowling Green, plus a
very solid Pitt club. The bench will be important in these games because of
the quick turnaround; their ability to make an impact will be a solid clue to
how things will shake out in the ACC.


** Bales: Ali had a lot of trouble finishing in this game. She missed several
point blank shots and looked off-balance most of the time. At one point, she
looked somewhat injured standing on the court, but it might have just been that
she took a shot across the chops that dazed her. She looked fine when she
returned to the game in the second half and played much better, though she was
using an icepack on her knee. It was noted that she may be sick, as she was
spotted puffing on an inhaler at one point. Still, Ali's defensive effort was
as strong as ever, blocking 4 shots and altering a few more as well as forcing
a jump ball. She also stayed out of foul trouble, which was important in order
to contain Jackson. Ali is now up to 328 career blocks, 2 away from tying DeMya
Walker's ACC record and good for 22nd on the NCAA all-time list.

** Gay: Carrem had a quiet game offensively since the game plan was for the
guards to attack off the dribble. That said, she did a nice job of being in
the right place at the right time and drew several fouls. Her main task was to
slow down Jackson and use her quickness to beat her to good spots on the floor.
A quiet but solid game.

** Smith: Nish took over for Duke on offense when they needed her most and put a
lot of pressure on the ball as well. She scored 9 points in six minutes,
bringing Duke back from a 5 point deficit and giving them a 3 point lead.
Smith did it through pure hard work, attacking the Longhorns off the dribble
and looking for angles of attack. Still, she sparked her own play by sinking a
three; that's the kind of shot she needs to hit from time to time in order to
make opponents guard her. She had several important plays in the second half:
finishing a cut to blunt a Texas three, finishing a fast break basket early in
the half, and finding Mitchell for a three point play to help put the game
away. She was a big part of Duke's starting guards exploding for 45 of the
team's 80 points.

** A.Waner: Again, Abby found a lot of ways to contribute when her long-range
jumper wasn't clicking (0-5 from three). Her defense on Arriaran was excellent
and she did a great job leading Duke's traps. She's finishing beautifully in
transition and has become Duke's most reliable finisher. When she wasn't
scoring early on, she was still up in her opponent's face and hitting the
boards. This is 9 games in a row where Abby has scored in double digits, which
is remarkable considering that she had to manufacture most of her points. While
she didn't hit a three, the tough 18' baseline jumper that she hit at a key
moment was perhaps the most impressive shot of the game.

** Harding: Lindsey didn't have a great shooting day but was key in disrupting
Texas' schemes and tortured them endlessly off the dribble. Cortijo was forced
to become a jump shooter and Arriaran a penetrator when Lindsey was on them,
and that didn't play to either of their strengths. Harding was a bit sloppy at
times with 4 turnovers and too many off-balance shots, but she corrected a lot
of that in the second half. The way she led Duke's charge, with 2 assists and
a three to start the second half, proved that she takes leadership of this team
very seriously.

** E.Waner: Coach G noted that Emily had played with a lot of fire earlier in
the week in a practice against the men's practice squad. She told her that she
hadn't seen that in games this year, and that she wanted to see it when she
played her. Gail went on to say that she benched Emily against Vanderbilt, and
that Emily should make the coach want to play her. There's no question that she
helped herself considerably here, to the delight of all. She drew huge ovations
for her play, and the players were exuberantly nodding their heads when I asked
them about this in the press conference. There is a guard spot in the rotation
that's open for whomever wants to seize it, but no one has played well enough to
claim it as of yet. A showing like this will go a long way in helping Em stake
that claim, especially against a quick team like Texas.

** Mitchell: Bridgette didn't play a lot in the first half, but she did a nice
job playing against Jackson. She came out of nowhere to block a shot and
scored on a feed from Harding. In the second half, Bridgette scored on a three
point play against Jackson, drawing her fourth foul and breaking up a 6-2
mini-run from the Longhorns. This was a nice showing overall, with only the
offensive foul she committed detracting from her performance.

** Mitch: Britt got quite a few minutes at wing but wasn't able to convert any
of her shots. That included a wide-open three and a layup that got blocked.

** Cheek: Joy hustled like crazy in this contest, forcing jump balls and
grabbing offensive boards left and right. She had trouble getting her shots to
drop but was much more careful with the ball in this game. The points will
come so long as she continues to stay patient and keep attacking.

** Jackson: KJ was her usual scrappy self. She missed several open shots but
fed Abby and Carrem for baskets.