Duke faces Winthrop to open NCAA women’s tournament

Mar. 17, 2014 @ 11:38 PM

Duke’s senior women’s basketball players get one last time to shine at Cameron Indoor Stadium this weekend.

The Blue Devils knew they would be hosting NCAA Tournament first- and second-round games at home before the season began.

On Monday night, when the field of 64 was unveiled, Duke was placed as a No. 2 seed in the Nebraska Regional and will face 15th-seeded Winthrop in the first round on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2).

The Duke-Winthrop game is part of a doubleheader at Cameron. No. 7 seed DePaul will face 10th-seeded Oklahoma in the second game on Saturday (1:30 p.m., ESPN2).

Duke is led by its three remaining senior starters, Tricia Liston, Haley Peters and Richa Jackson. They’re glad to have one and possibly two more home games in their historic home.

“Playing at home is great for us, especially with the home crowd,” Liston said. “Also for us seniors, being able to play on Cameron again, I think that’s something that’s going to be really special for us and it will give us good momentum for the first game and going into the next game.”

The seniors have already been part of three trips to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and two ACC Tournament championships.

The Blue Devils (27-6) fell short in the ACC Tournament this season, losing to unbeaten Notre Dame in the championship game on March 9.

Duke started the season with five seniors in its playing rotation, but lost guard Chelsea Gray (knee) and Chloe Wells (leg) to injuries throughout the season.

The Blue Devils also don’t have sophomore guard Alexis Jones anymore. Jones suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 23 at Notre Dame.

That said, the Duke players who remain say they are ready for yet another NCAA Tournament run that will begin at home.

“We learned a lot and I think we proved some people wrong,” Liston said of Duke’s second-place finish at the ACC Tournament. “I think a lot of people doubted what this team could do. I think we proved to ourselves that we can play with the best teams.”

Duke’s NCAA Tournament start with Winthrop (24-8), which won the Big South tournament to earn an automatic bid into the field.

“I know [Winthrop has] got a tremendously balanced scoring attack with four double-figure scorers, which is always interesting to see that balance,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “From there, I’ll have to look at film to see how we’ll attack things tomorrow at practice. Of course we’re trying to do things to get ourselves better and then implement the scout report as well. We’re really excited to have an opponent. We’re really excited to get started.”

Peters is glad the start comes at Cameron.

“It’s exciting to play at home and have one last ‘hurrah’ in Cameron,” Peters said. “Already having senior night, this is just icing on the cake for us to be able to play and start the last leg of our season at home. It’s going to be exciting.”

That said, McCallie is confident her experienced players will stay focused on the task in front of them, beating Winthrop and then Oklahoma or DePaul, to advance to the Sweet 16 in Lincoln, Neb.

“This group is very good at staying in the moment,” McCallie said. “I don’t think anyone’s talking about ‘finish’ or anything like that. I think we’re talking about playing Winthrop, getting our mindset for that and just being really, really aggressive. I think everyone’s very good about staying in the present.”