NCAA Tournament spotlight on Duke point guard Alexis Jones today
Today’s point guard matchup in the Norfolk Regional semifinal game between Duke and Nebraska comes down to youth vs. experience.
Duke freshman Alexis Jones will be starting only her 10th game at point guard when today’s game tips off at the Ted Constant Convocation Center (2:30 p.m., ESPN2), having taken that role when junior Chelsea Gray suffered a season-ending injury against Wake Forest on Feb. 17.
“Alexis Jones has become a marvelous player,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said Saturday. “We do not know what it would have been with Chelsea and Alexis in the backcourt together. God willing, they will have a chance next year.
“Alexis has embraced that she has to grow up quickly.”
Nebraska senior Lindsey Moore has started every game since joining the Cornhuskers, a string of 132 in a row, with a record of 94-37. She leads Nebraska (25.8) with 189 assists and 59 steals and is second in scoring at 15.2 points per game.
“The first word that comes to my head when I think of Lindsey Moore is competitive,” Nebraska coach Connie Yori said. “She is a kid who does not like to lose. It doesn’t matter if we are playing a shooting game in practice, five- on-five ... or monopoly. She does not like to lose.
“She can shoot the (3-pointer), put it on the floor and take it to the basket. What sets her apart at times is that she is a good passer.”
Jones is averaging 9.4 points, has distributed 135 assists and has 61 steals.
“She is talking, she’s yelling on the court, demanding of us, but she is not trying to be Chelsea,” Duke junior Tricia Liston said of Jones. “She is still her own player, but she is our point guard now. ...
“So many people have been comparing her to Chelsea, and I guess you can because they’re point guards. But they are two different players. I think she’s done a great job of staying true to herself and still being able to lead our team in the way we want to play Duke basketball.”
That includes a combination of inside-outside scoring that keeps teams struggling to shut down either. Center Elizabeth Williams leads the Blue Devils (32-2) with 15.5 points per game, followed by Liston at 13.3 and Haley Peters at 12.2.
“We will be challenged with Duke because of their inside and outside game,” Yori said. “Those are the hard teams to guard. When you have a weakness or a chink in your armor somewhere, usually a team is a little bit easier to guard. However, Duke doesn’t have that.”
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are aware of Nebraska’s outside shooting. The Cornhuskers have made 211 of 660 shots from 3-point range (32 percent), compared to 185 of 450 (41.1 percent) by Duke.
“They can really shoot the (3-pointer) from all five spots,” McCallie said. “They can create shots, and they all know how to pass. ... They have a senior point guard who understands the game and plays very hard. She if very difficult to disrupt. ...
“The two post players, Jordan Hooper and Emily Cady, complement each other. (Hooper) is terrific; she plays every phase of the game and has a terrific three ball.”
Hooper leads the Cornhuskers with 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Cady chips in 9.2 points and 7.9 rebounds on average.
“I know my team has my back,” Moore said. “Everyone’s been playing really well for us, so it not like it’s just been solely dependent on me and how I perform. (Hooper and Cady) have had a great tournament so far, so it’s not necessarily about me.”
NOTES — The Blue Devils had dinner at Williams’ home, located in Virginia Beach, on Friday. “It’s exciting, definitely, for all the people that have supported me through my high school days ... (to be here). But at the same time, it’s a business trip. We’re here to take care of business and win these next two games.” ... Duke earned its trip to Norfolk with wins over nearby Hampton (67-51) and Oklahoma State (68-59). Nebraska beat Chattanooga in its NCAA Tournament opener 73-59, followed by a 74-63 upset of No. 3-seeded Texas A&M.
No. 2 Duke Blue Devils vs. No. 6 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Where: Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Va.
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Records: Duke 33-2, Nebraska 25-8
“Those were probably the days when I still had goggles. I do remember that it’s definitely a nice facility here.” — Duke sophomore center Elizabeth Williams, on her experience of playing basketball at the Ted Constant Convocation Center when she was younger.
“You just have to be confident and know that you’re here for a reason. We played well to this point. That will help in this game, just knowing that we play good basketball, too. Not to take away anything from what (Duke has) done this season — they’ve had a great season. ... We need to stay focused on the things that we’ve done up until this point and not psych ourselves out.” — Nebraska senior point guard Lindsey Moore, on the Cornhuskers’ trying to make it to the Elite Eight for the first time.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Nebraska — Jordan Hooper, F, Jr. — The 6-2 Hooper leads the Cornhuskers with 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Duke — Tricia Liston, G, Jr. — Duke’s top 3-point shooter will have her hands full on defense while helping run the offense in her 100th game. Liston has made 76 of 165 attempts from outside the arc (46.1 percent), but she also helps freshman point guard with ballhandling duties.
Nebraska — 66 — The number of games Moore, Hooper and sophomores Hailie Sample and Emily Cody have started consecutively for the Cornhuskers, posting a 49-17 record.
Duke — 16-0 — The Blue Devils have not lost when four players score in double figures, including their first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Hampton and Oklahoma State.
SATURDAY PRACTICE DAY QUOTES
Courtesy Duke Sports Infornation
Joanne P. McCallie, Duke Head Coach:
Q: You have talked this year about how the whole regular season was a process to keep going through this weekend and on to next weekend. How much difference is this weekend from last weekend?
A: I think it depends to where you are and the circumstances, but from a Duke experience for us, it’s a little bit easier when we are on the road because when we are home, you are going to school, you are going to class, and turning in papers, and through all that day to day, going to practice and getting ready. I find that very challenging for our team. You know we got to the point where we have amazing academic women and if they are in the proximity of Duke they are going to class, they are going to work hard and that’s great. Of course, that’s great as student- athletes, but it’s a tough balance. So the idea of going on the road is a little simpler for us in that way and hopefully, we get to spend some more time together doing some of the little things you get to do while you are on the road rather than studying and papers and that constant need to balance all of the things at one time.
Q: How have you all cranked up the intensity this week?
A: Every game, every practice, you have to bring more intensity and get better. There is not a minute where we can rest and not attack. We are learning this as we go along in this tournament.
Q: You mentioned Elizabeth Williams earlier, when you were recruiting her. How well did you get to know her and now being around her everyday what strikes you about her?
A: She is an amazing person and comes from an amazing family. I feel like I got to know her very well. I read a book with her you know. I don’t want to read that book again. It was a terrible book. Anyways, the things you would do in recruiting, but I got to know her very well, what was important to her as a person, her family is very important to her, she comes from a very happy family. They are probably the happiest family I know, in terms of just the way they live their lives and how they support their children. Thank God, she is a sophomore and we can continue to develop and have a great time together. She is a very honorable player, she works very hard, and sometimes puts too much pressure on herself, a little of a perfectionist. It’s not about perfection, it’s about giving your all, and cutting loose. I haven’t felt like she has cut loose yet, but I hope she does.
Q: Is it almost unfair to replace an All-American with someone who goes on to become ACC Tournament MVP?
A: We have not been able to replace Chelsea Gray and what she has done for us. We continue to struggle in many areas where she provided great leadership. The key is the team’s evolution after what happened to Chelsea. It was real shocking to us, but we looked to the leadership of Haley Peters, Allison Vernerey, Tricia Liston, Elizabeth Williams, and Chloe Wells. Everyone was hurt by the situation, but it made them realize they needed to step up and take advantage. Alexis Jones has become a marvelous player. We do not know what it would have been with Chelsea and Alexis in the backcourt together. God willing, they will have a chance next year. Alexis has embraced that she has to grow up quickly. She is a very good listener and very fun to coach.
Q: Can you give us a few remarks about Nebraska and what you have seen so far?
A: They are playing outstanding basketball together. Their three-point shooting is a mess and I mean that in the most positive way. They can really shoot the three ball from all five spots. They can create shots and they all know how to pass. They get down the floor very quickly and if you’re not alert, they will pull the trail three. I think they use the trail better than anyone I have seen. They have a senior point guard who understands the game and plays very hard. She is very difficult to disrupt because she knows her game and plays it effectively. The two post players, Jordan Hooper and Emily Cady, complement each other. Hooper is terrific. She plays every phase of the game and has a terrific three ball. Cady, looks like she is learning from Hooper after watching the film. Head Coach Connie Yori has done a great job. They are very well coached and it is exactly what you would expect at this time of year.
Q: How important was it to have to come from behind like you did in the second round game and move forward.
A: I guess if you have to do it! We have never been behind at the half very much. That was a very new experience for our group. It is very important to be able to understand any circumstances at any time, any place, or any condition. You have to be able to focus and fight. Fight back or fight forward. I was very pleased with our team. That was a very moving thing to watch. The different plays by so many people made it extraordinary. It was really spread out and I think that was the unique part about it. Everyone played a role. These games are games of runs. Whether you are providing the run or someone is running on you, you must change the tempo of the game. That was definitely a tempo change we needed. Oklahoma St. was a tough team. We had a nice little bracket. Hampton was great as well. We were working hard under many different circumstances in this tournament already.
Elizabeth Williams, Duke Center/Forward:
On getting the chance to play close to home
I think it’s pretty cool. It’s exciting, definitely, for all the people that have supported me through my high school days, and them just being here, but, at the same time, it’s a business trip. We’re here to take care of business and win these next two games.
On Coach P thinking she’s too much of a perfectionist
Yeah, I tend to be a perfectionist at times, so just kind of relaxing on the court, playing my game, and being able to trust my teammates. They have so much faith in me so not trying too hard, just playing.
Her two keys to defeating Nebraska
Just being disciplined on defense. They like to back-door cut, so we have to be alive if we’re in ‘denial’, not to lose contact with the player, and also be alive in help-side.
6 On memories of playing at the Constant Center
Oh man, those were probably the days when I still had goggles. I don’t remember much. I do remember it is a really nice facility here, and I definitely enjoy playing here.
Tricia Liston, Duke Guard:
On the mentality to go forward in the tournament I think our first two-round games were really good for us. I think they presented us with a lot of challenges that we were forced to overcome as a team. I think that it really helped us to get stronger and be in different situations that will help us down the line and this weekend.
On two things that worry Duke about Nebraska I would say having to guard five interchangeable shooters on the court at one time. Also, being able to come up with the rebound from the long shots, from the three’s and being able to finish the possession with the rebound.
On impact of Alexis Jones
I think it’s just been a growing experience for us all. Whenever a player goes down on a team, things are going to change. The dynamic on the court is going to change. I think it took us a few games to get used to that but we’ve done a really good job getting back to the team we want to be and playing the game we want to play. It’s certainly sad to see someone like Chelsea (Gray) go down because she brings so much to the table, but as for Lex (Alexis Jones), she stepped up tremendously for us. Vocally she hasn’t been the loudest one, especially playing with Chelsea because Chelsea did most of that, but she has grown so much. She has come out of her shell. She is talking, she’s yelling on the court, demanding of us, but (she) is not trying to be Chelsea. She is still her own player, but she is our point guard now. She is the starting point guard and I think she does a good job. So many people have been comparing her to Chelsea and I guess you can do that because they’re point guards but they are two different players. I think she’s done a great job staying true to herself and still being able to lead our team in the way we want to play Duke basketball.
Haley Peters, Duke Forward/Guard:
On the mentality to go forward in the tournament Well I think once you get to the tournament, every team that you’re playing against is really good. You just have to step up your intensity, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve had some good tests last weekend. That’s just our main focus in the tournament and we’ve done a good job of that and have learned a lot in the last few games about who we are as a team and what we have to improve on.
On two things that worry Duke about Nebraska I think offensively they’re a great penetrate and kick team. They spread the floor out pretty well. (We) have to be able to shut down their drive and kick offensively. Playing (against) really fast shooters on the court, (we) have to locate them but not over commit because they are all capable to penetrate.
On feeding off energy of Duke men’s basketball team I think we’ve always been a little bit competitive with the guy’s side and trying to stay up with what their doing. We are all good friends with them. We all watched the game and were cheering for them last night. We are very focused on what we need to do as a team. Obviously we are rooting for them and we are always just a little bit competitive with them.
PRACTICE DAY QUOTES – Nebraska
Connie Yori, Nebraska Head Coach:
Q: There has been a lot of talking today about point guards and that seems to be the dominant thing on every team, with your point guard being no exception. Can you talk about Lindsey Moore and what she brings to this team?
A: The first word that comes to my head when I think of Lindsey Moore is competitive. She is a kid who does not like to lose. It doesn’t matter if we are playing a shooting game in practice, five- on-five, game time, or monopoly. She does not like to lose. She has a good skill set. She can shoot the three, put it on the floor and take it to the basket. What sets her apart at times is that she is a good passer. She’s definitely our team leader and she’s someone we can count on.
Q: What is the benefit of having four players who have started 66 games or so together? What does that mean?
A: We are still young. We start a freshman, two sophomores, and just one senior. But those four kids have started consecutively now since last year. We have had some continuity. Because of that, we understand what we are looking for and understand our communication system.
Q: When you look at Duke’s offense is there any offense you have faced that was of similar challenges in terms of being able to score inside and outside with such efficiency?
A: Well, I would have to say Penn State. Penn State has a very good inside game. They have really good guard play. We obviously didn’t fair well against them. We will be challenged with Duke because of their inside and outside game. Those are the hard teams to guard. When you have a weakness or a chink in your armor somewhere, usually a team is a little bit easier to guard. However, Duke doesn’t have that.
Q: What kind of a challenge does it present that Duke plays a little bit differently with Alexis Jones at point then they did with Chelsea Gray?
A: Well, we haven’t scouted Duke with Chelsea. We are focused on what we have seen the last nine games. Alexis is a terrific point guard. What a nice luxury to lose someone of Chelsea’s caliber and end up with a high school All-American in Alexis Jones. She is very talented and very good with the ball. She knows how to find her teammates. Chelsea did that as well. The challenge will be to try and stay in front of her. She is incredibly quick and good with the ball. She can shoot the three, yet beat you off the dribble. We will face a very good point guard tomorrow.
Q: You said earlier that your players are still hungry. This has been the farthest run in your school’s history in the tournament. How do you think they will handle this stage?
A: We have played in enough big environments over the years. Playing in the league we do, we play in front of a lot of folks. The BIG TEN draws very well so as Nebraska, we are one of the leaders in attendance virtually every year. We are used to playing in front of fans and against good competition. I think Duke is going to take a different level in some ways. I think our players are poised and confident.
Q: About the poise, was that as good as it’s been since Texas A&M?
A: We didn’t play well for a five minute stretch, but for about thirty five minutes, we played very well on offense and we did what we were supposed to do defensively. That always helps.
Emily Cady, Nebraska Forward:
Thoughts on how to avoid slow start
Come out focused and know what we are going to do to help us win. We have to play as a team and keep everything together.
Thoughts on success leading to excitement around Nebraska program Its always fun to keep playing and we are never going to play with this same group of girls again. I am never going to play with Lindsey (Moore), so I want to keep on playing. Keep getting opportunities to keep playing with a really good point guard.
Approach to rebound battle against Duke
Coach always talks about how rebounding is effort so if you give all your effort it should all pan out.
Jordan Hooper, Nebraska Forward:
On shooting background at the Constant Center
We actually haven’t had shoot-around yet so I’m not quite sure what it looks like out there yet but I’m sure it’ll be fine.
On what the Sweet 16 opportunity means to the Cornhuskers program now and in future
I think it’s really exciting to be this far and, like Lin said, I don’t want it to be done and, like Em (Emily Cady) said, we’re not going to ever get to play with the same group of girls again, so I think that’s really special. Just play in the moment, just keep it up, and just keep going as far as we can with this group because we’re never going to get this moment back. So, I think we kind of have to look at the small picture and big picture as we go.
On approaching rebounding battle against such a bigger team
Well, we’ve done it all year long. We’re not the biggest team in the BIG TEN by any means and we haven’t been the biggest team in the tournament thus far, so I feel like it’s just another challenge for us to just try to work around what we have and just use our quickness and stuff, and box back like we have all year.
Lindsey Moore, Nebraska Guard:
On mentality to play against a big college basketball name in Duke
I think, honestly, you just have to be confident and know that you’re here for a reason. We’ve played well up to this point, so I think that will help in this game; just knowing that we play good basketball too. Not to take away anything from what they’ve done this season - they’ve had a great season – but we just can’t not play our game. That’s the biggest thing. Yeah, we understand, that they’re a big name but we have been playing successfully and having a good run. So we just need to make sure we stay focused on the things that we’ve done up to this point and not necessarily psych ourselves out against a big name like that. Just play Nebraska basketball.
On whether or not she feels all eyes are on her as a senior floor leader
Not necessarily. I know my team has my back. Everyone’s been playing really well for us so it not like it’s just been solely dependent on me and how I perform. These two [Jordan Hooper, Emily Cady] have had a great tournament so far, so it’s not necessarily about me. It’s about our team and just me feeding them when they’re ready. They are great players and everyone, like I said, has been playing well so it’s not necessarily something I feel pressure on. I just wanna keep doing what I’ve been doing for our team, and I think we will be successful.
On what the Sweet 16 opportunity means to the Cornhuskers program now and in future
I think it’s really cool. The fact that we’ve made it this far now, the second time in school history, obviously it doesn’t happen every year for our program. So, to make it back here has been really exciting and we’ve been really looking forward to it. We set up goals in the beginning of the season and we wanted to make a push in the tournament, so we’ve definitely done that but we don’t want it to stop now. We want to keep going and make history in Nebraska, so I definitely think that it’s been exciting and it does mean a lot, especially to the State of Nebraska, but we don’t want to be done yet.
On what one aspect of Duke’s offense is most important to slow down
I think [Duke’s] inside game is really good. They have really good post presence inside and good size, so I definitely think that’s one of the main focuses we have.