“We’re going to play our concepts. We’ve going to try to do what we do and I’m sure they’ll try to do what they do and that’s usually what happens in most games and somebody does what they do better than the other team and that team usually wins.”
That’s a pretty succinct explanation of what happens when two sports teams square off. Duke women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson was talking about Wednesday’s game against South Carolina but she also was talking about her general philosophy of putting together and sustaining a successful basketball program.
Note the emphasis on “our concepts.”
South Carolina is going to put those concepts to a tough test. They’ve faced a minefield of heavyweights so far and they’ve bulldozed their way through it. The top-ranked team in every poll, South Carolina has wins over four teams ranked in the top-10 at the time they played; 66-57 over NC State, 80-63 over Oregon, 73-57 over Connecticut and 66-59 over Maryland. They bludgeoned in-state rival Clemson 76-45.
How does Duke beat South Carolina?
Lawson says her biggest concern is South Carolina’s height. At 6-5, Aliyah Boston is the nation’s best post player, a dominant scorer, rebounder and rim protector. But she has help from three other players 6-3 or taller, including 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso, last year’s ACC freshman of the year, at Syracuse.
“The thing that jumps out about them is their size,” Lawson says. “We haven’t played a team that has that size across the board, that depth of size. That’s an unknown for us.”
South Carolina uses that size on offense, on defense, on the boards. They out-rebounded Maryland 61-34 just a few days ago and Maryland is pretty good, maybe better than pretty good.
Lawson said it’s easy to tell a player to block out her opponent but a lot harder to actually do against a team with South Carolina’s “size and length and athleticism.”
“ It’s just really competing,” Lawson said. “You’ve got to compete, you’ve got to play with great pace. We’ve got to play physical. We’ve got to use all five of our players to rebound the ball. We’ve got to step up to the challenge.”
One way to beat South Carolina’s half-court defense is to get some points in transition before they have a chance to set up.
But some really good teams have tried that and none of them have scored more than Oregon’s 63 points.
But running is one of those core principles Lawson mentioned and Duke is going to stick with those principles.
“We always try to look to attack in transition, no matter who we’re playing. That’s something that we look to try and get easy baskets, look to push the ball up the floor, spread the floor out, see if we can get some open 3s. Our execution is going to have to be good at the offensive end. We’re going to have to take care of the ball and we’re going to have to make shots. Ultimately, we’re going to have to make shots.”
Duke may have one advantage, South Carolina’s starting point-guard Destanni Henderson missed the Maryland game with a leg injury and her status for Duke is unknown. Lawson says Duke is preparing for either scenario, Henderson playing or Henderson not playing.
And it should be noted that Henderson sitting out just puts the ball in the hands of South Carolina’s other All-American, 5-9 Zia Cooke, smart, skilled and super quick.
Pick your poison.
Lawson suggested that this game, as big as it is, is just one data point in a long process of getting Duke back in the national elite.
“I want to be one of the best programs in the country. We’re not there, yet. I think we’re moving in that direction, quickly. I’m not very patient but with nine new players, this group has done a good job of getting to know each other quickly.You can learn and grow together, while still winning. If we win this game, it means we’re 9 and oh. If we lose this game, it means we’re 8 and 1. I don’t think one game defines the best program in the country, I think what defines the best programs in the country is that game in and game out, year in and year out, you’re one of the best.”