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Rob On Duke's Big Win Over Rutgers!

Duke 85, Rutgers 45. December 4th, 2006. The RAC.

Duke started off a tough stretch in the season by erasing a young but talented
Rutgers squad. The Scarlet Knights are usually formidable at home--and with
Duke their home opener, the crowd of over 6000 was ready to rock. Instead,
Rutgers looked completely unprepared for Duke's intensity and weren't able
to
match it during any stretch of the game. If Coach G looked unusually tense in
a huge blowout, it's because she keeps expecting Duke's opponents to really
take it to them. Instead, only Marist has come close to slowing Duke down so
far. That will likely change against a clever, veteran Vanderbilt squad on
Thursday and an athletic Texas team on Sunday, but the roadblock expected in
Piscataway never materialized.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer compared it to a freshman trying to take grad
school courses; her team was simply not prepared for Duke's size, quickness,
intensity and execution. Duke really isn't 40 points better than a team with
so many top-notch players in terms of talent, but even the most talented teams
will get shredded if they don't play team defense, are sluggish in transition
and sloppy with the ball. To Duke's credit, they repeatedly took advantage
of
their opportunities and made few mistakes--especially the starters.

The Devils started off on a 7-0 run that seemed to deflate the crowd. Lindsey
Harding dished to a wide open Carrem Gay on the run; it was stunning how little
resistance Duke met on that play. Alison Bales set a high screen and Abby
Waner popped behind it for a three off the bounce, and then Gay retrieved a
rebound and watched Harding take off down the court with it for a fast break
layup. That was just the beginning, as Duke went on a 15-2 run, forcing 3
turnovers.

Bales got it going by popping an 18' jumper; she did most of her work in the
high post in this game. Bales set another screen for Waner and slipped her the
ball for a banked-in three, and then fed Waner for a fast break bucket after a
steal. Ali wasn't necessarily getting a lot of looks inside, but she
repeatedly frustrated powerful Rutgers center Kia Vaughn. While Vaughn did
grab 18 rebounds (over half of her team's total), she was 0-9 from the floor
as
Bales either blocked her shot or forced Vaughn to try and shoot over her.
Harding got into the swing of things but popping back-to-back threes, and Gay
outletted a rebound to a streaking Smith for an easy transition basket.
Amazingly, Duke didn't pick up their first turnover until there were twelve
minutes left in the half. This was partly because Rutgers was playing so
passively, but was also due in large part to Duke's precision.

Duke went to its bench and immediately struggled for a few minutes as the
Knights scored 6 in a row. The Devils regained their focus and forced several
misses in a row. On offense, Bridgette Mitchell made sure to be in the right
place at the right time. She cut and finished a pass from Bales, received a
pass from Harding and immediately blew past a disinterested defender, and then
finished a fast break on a heads-up play by Wanisha Smith. When Gay went high
to block a three point attempt by Epiphanny Prince and outletted to Waner for a
finish, it was clear that Rutgers was waving the white flag. Waner followed up
that play by popping the ball away from Rutgers star Matee Ajavon and finishing
when Harding came up with the ball. With under three minutes to go in the half,
Duke was up 33-13. The Knights cut into that lead slightly with a 5-2 run, but
a Bales jumper & 2 Harding foul shots gave Duke even more momentum going into
the half. Duke held Rutgers to 21% shooting and had a 9-0 edge in points off
turnovers. Waner and Harding combined for 23 points on 8-18 shooting.

While the game was a romp, it wasn't a complete runaway yet. One got the
snese that Duke was braced for a big Rutgers run and played accordingly. Smith
rebounded her own miss and dished to Waner for a 15' jumper, and then hit 2
freebies. A Prince turnover led to Harding popping a 15' jumper in transition;
Lindsey then knifed through the defense for an acrobatic finish. When Bales
powered inside with a drop step, scoring & drawing the foul on an overwhelmed
Essence Carson, that put Duke up 50-18. Duke pushed the lead up to 57-22
before the Knights scored 6 in a row, but the Devils made sure that they didn't
get any bright ideas by holding Rutgers scoreless for the next six minutes.
Duke held Rutgers under 30 points for the first 34 minutes of the game.

Things got a little sloppy down the stretch as the bench got some extended
playing time, but it was pretty much total domination. The Devils shot over
50% against a program known for its stingy defense. Quite frankly, I was
expecting a game in the 50's. Rutgers is known for slowing down the game,
physical play and waiting for opponents to make mistakes. Instead, Duke sped
them up whenever they could (14 fast break points) and committed just 4 first
half turnovers. There was plenty of playing time for everyone: no one played
more than 28 minutes (A.Waner) or fewer than 12 (E.Waner & Mitchell). It wasn't
a flawless performance; the bench made a lot of mistakes, Bales was reluctant to
mix it up inside at times and there were a few too-quick jumpshots taken.
Still, a youngish Duke team is starting to develop its own winning identity.
There are a lot more tests remaining, but the leadership shown by its seniors
is starting to mold this group into one of the toughest defensive squads in
Duke history.

Player-by-Player:

** Bales: This game pretty much was like many of Ali's recent games: dominant
on
defense, solid on the boards, and not quite as aggressive on offense as one
would like. The good news is that even though she didn't get physical too
often down low, she was perfectly happy popping accurate jumpshots from 18'.
I
would go so far to say that she may well have the best looking-shot of anyone on
the team. Bales was clearly annoyed by Vaughn's physical play--at one point,
she was shoved out of bounds by Vaughn, allowing a Rutgers play to score off
the dribble. She responded by making Vaughn's life miserable down low, forcing
bad shot after bad shot. The highlight came on a charge she took after Vaughn
got frustrated and bowled Ali over on her way to the basket. Ali did get a bit
of revenge inside with that three point play, which gives us just a hint of what
she can do inside when she feels the need. Duke's going up against a huge front
line on Thursday, and this could be an opportunity for Ali to shine.

** Gay: Simply a fabulous game for a hustle player who was clearly comfortable
playing against Rutgers. She knew quite a few of them from her high school and
AAU days; in fact, Prince played at Gay's rival high school. Gay was quite
familiar with how to deal with her and effortlessly blocked a three point
attempt. More than that, Remy has looked more and more like she's filling a
role: rebounding, defense, hustle plays, clever relocation passes, aggressive
but smart outlet passes to runners, etc. She'll get her points when there's
an
opportunity and is certainly ready to score at any time, but she's content to
do
the detail work. 7 points, 10 boards, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks and just 1
turnover is a nice day's work for any player. When you throw in 2 held balls
forced and a charge taken, one can see that she's growing game by game.

** Smith: Smith's offense continues to be AWOL, but she's fantastic in every
other phase of the game. Her defense is simply excellent, as she smothered
everyone she was assigned to guard. I loved the way she ran the floor, finding
targets to dish off to or else getting fouled. Her best play came when Waner
stole the ball and bounced a pass to Smith, running in full stride. Nish
realized that her momentum was carrying her out of bounds, but she alertly
dished to a cutting Mitchell for a score before she turned the ball over. Her
only really bad sequence came toward the end of the game: she missed a layup
and then turned the ball over on the other end. Duke still needs Nish to shoot
and score; they can't afford for her to become a one-way player. Even if she
misses, as long as she takes good shots with confidence, then one can't
complain about the outcome.

** A. Waner: Abby was clearly feeling it in this game, bombing away and
immediately collapsing Rutgers' sagging defense with her jumpers. While she
may have taken a quick shot here and there, she aggressively attacked the
basket as well. One thing I'm noticing is Abby finishing those left-handed
layups with confidence, after blowing many of them last season. She's become
Duke's best transition finisher, both because of her aggresssiveness and
understanding of angles. She continued her strong defense against a very quick
backcourt, staying in front of her opponent in the halfcourt but also looking
for trapping opportunities or for a carelessly dribbled ball. Things are
looking easy for her right now, but it'll be interesting to see how she handles
a close game where her shot isn't falling. Will she be able to continue to
contribute? We'll know the answer to that soon.

** Harding: Lindsey absolutely went off in this game. Essence Carson, who is
not a natural point guard, was no match for Lindsey's quickness. Harding
dominated the early action with 2 threes, a slashing finish and an assist to
Gay. Harding led Duke's traps, pushing ballhandlers to the sidelines where
a
number of bad passes were forced inside. Lindsey looked for her shot early in
the second half as well, popping off 2 long jumpers and slithering to the
basket for another score. When the smoke cleared, she and Abby had combined
for 40 of Duke's 85 points. Lindsey faces the very quick Dee Davis of Vandy
next, another excellent test to see how she stacks up against the nation's best
this season.

** Cheek: Joy struggled upon entering the game, missing a shot against Vaughn
and coughing up the ball several times. While she did have a pretty baseline
drive for a hoop late in the game, it was clear that the game's speed hit her
hard in this contest. Things won't get any slower, so she simply must adjust.

** Mitch: Brittany was tentative in the early going and Rutgers could sense it,
forcing her into an offensive foul and a turnover. Mitch picked up her play a
bit by effectively trapping and finishing a couple of fast breaks. Not a
remarkable performance, but not an embarrassing one either.

** Mitchell: After a couple of rough games, Bridgette got to show off a bit for
the home crowd with 3 straight buckets that pushed Duke's lead from 11 to 17.
While she wasn't rebounding like earlier in the year, she snagged 3 boards with
her quickness and got her hands on several bad passes. A solid performance for
the player who has the talent and skill level to become one of Duke's top
reserves.

** Jackson: KJ had a few solid minutes here and there, getting to the foul line
and hitting a 15' jumper. While she did get whistled for an offensive foul,
I
loved how active she was the whole time. I'm still curious as to where she
stands in the rotation overall; I suspect she's probably still behind Mitchell,
but there's no question that she's made inroads in recent games. At the
very
least, she comes in ready to make an impact, which is what you must have of any
reserve.

** E.Waner: Emily wasn't shy about firing away and finally managed to sink a
three late in the game. She also sank a couple of free throws and was adequate
on defense.

** Injury Update: Just to reaffirm something I noted earlier: Chante Black's
knee is not seriously injured, according to recent scans. The staff is taking
its time with her after she tweaked her knee upon returning to practice,
getting tangled up with a practice player. It's hard to predict a specific
return because they have to monitor the knee for inflammation. Once it's
completely healed, it'll still take a bit of time because she's not close
to
being in shape. I predict that we won't see her until after the team's
holiday
break, possibly in the New Hampshire tournament before New Year's.