New-look Duke has uneven results

Mar. 02, 2014 @ 10:16 PM

Even before the postseason tournaments arrived, Duke played what it referred to as the second game of a new season Sunday at rival North Carolina.

From what occurred, the No. 7-ranked Blue Devils will enter this week’s ACC Tournament will plenty of lessons.

Using a revamped playing rotation because they’ve lost five guards this season, the Blue Devils played well for stretches and unimpressive in others to suffer a 64-60 loss to the No. 14 Tar Heels at Carmichael Arena.

Duke (25-5, 12-4 in ACC) allowed UNC to score 11 consecutive points during the first half and 20 consecutive during the final minutes of the first half and the early portion of the second half.

The Blue Devils, trailing by as many as 19 points, responded by reeling off 16 consecutive points and eventually drawing as close as one point.

“For us it just wasn’t a full 40 minutes,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I mean, like you indicated for us, there were some really good pockets of opportunity, but there was a critical (time) after the half. I mean, what was that? I mean, it was poor execution, poor effort. Poor effort was the bigger thing for us. And then of course our effort became really big after that.”

It’s all part of Duke’s new normal. Senior point guard Chelsea Gray was lost for the season in January with a fractured kneecap. Sophomore guard Alexis Jones suffered a torn knee ligament on Feb. 23 and had season-ending surgery last Thursday.

Three other reserve guards, Rebecca Greenwell (knee injury), Kianna Holland (transfer), Chloe Wells (leg injury), also won’t play again this season.

Duke played its first game under this configuration last Thursday night, beating Wake Forest 71-56. On Sunday at UNC, seniors Tricia Liston and Richa Jackson started at the guard positions with junior Ka’lia Johnson also giving the Blue Devils 29 quality minutes off the bench.

Liston scored 19 points in her new role as playmaking guard, but 15 of the points came in the first half. She was limited to just one field goal in the second half and she committed four turnovers in the game.

“I don’t think they were helping off as much,” Liston said of UNC’s second-half defense, “but I’m sure I could have done some more things offensively and been a little more aggressive. But their defense was definitely a little bit more aggressive and less sagging off, especially on the help side and on screens, there was more help.”

Johnson hit 5 of 7 shots to score 12 points while recording one assist and one steal. She only committed one turnover.

“I wish more of our team was like that,” McCallie said. “I thought she was inspiring.”

Because of the lack of depth on the perimeter, Duke went with a taller lineup. Amber Henson, a 6-4 redshirt freshman, started at a forward slot along with 6-2 senior Haley Peters and 6-5 junior Elizabeth Williams.

Also on the interior, 6-4 freshman Oderah Chidom played 23 minutes. Another freshman, 6-4 Kendall McCravey-Cooper, played six minutes.

Despite that height, Duke lost the rebounding battle 35-33. That’s a fact that didn’t sit well with McCallie or the players.

“I mean we should be dominant on the boards, not getting beat on them,” Peters said. “And if we put together some stuff on the offensive side of the ball, we can be really, really, really good.”

Despite the loss, the Blue Devils finished in second place in the ACC standings and will be the No. 2 seed for the ACC Tournament, which begins on Wednesday. Duke gets the first two days of the tournament off and doesn’t play until Friday at 6 p.m.

The Blue Devils will face either No. 7 seed Georgia Tech, No. 10 seed Virginia or No. 15 seed Boston College.

By then, McCallie will have used the four days to continue to mold the team that she has left into a group that can find success in the postseason.

“I think we’ve got to be a consistent team,” McCallie said. “It doesn’t mean we have to be a perfect team, and we will make mistakes, but we have to have consistency of our effort, fight, rebounding, there are some basics that have to happen. And I think in that time that we were not as successful and they were, we weren’t covering the basics, stops, rebounds, fundamentals. Fundamentals are very important in March for every team.”