NCAA women's Durham subregional notebook
Duke without Chelsea Gray is a much different team, but hardly less dangerous.
Since Gray’s knee injury on Feb. 17, the Blue Devils have lost just once with freshman point guard Alexis Jones running the offense and won the ACC Tournament with relative ease.
Jones has been in double figures in six of Duke’s seven games since taking over the point, and she was the most valuable player of the league tournament after posting 24 points in the title game against North Carolina.
“Sometimes you don’t get to see the potential of a player because of the role that she is in, but now that (Alexis) has stepped up and taken a bigger role, I think she has done a good job,” Duke sophomore Elizabeth Williams said.
Junior Haley Peters said that she and Tricia Liston have been vocal on the court, as well.
“We’ve simply adjusted to it, not having Chelsea,” Peters said. “I don’t think we hung our heads for very long, if at all. I think I’ve tried consciously to make sure that we’re ready to keep going and understand that we’re really good, even without Chelsea on the court.
“She and Lex have gotten closer. ... Off the court, I think Chelsea’s voice is still very present. ... It wasn’t too difficult for us to keep everybody focused on what we have ahead of us and what we are still trying to do.”
FIRST STEP IS FAMILIAR
The Blue Devils’ first step in the NCAA Tournament is today against Hampton (12:05 p.m., ESPN2), which Duke has beaten all four times the programs have battled including a 72-37 win over the the Lady Pirates in the opening round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Senior Allison Vernerey had eight points and eight rebounds in that game as a freshman.
“It’s a fun time,” Vernerey said of the postseason. “It’s really a cool thing to be the only senior, and I’m definitely excited about the opportunity and know that it’s my last.
“I think everybody is ready. We’ve been preparing for that all season, so now it’s time to leave it all out there.”
VALUE OF THE WNIT
Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell credits the Cowboys’ run to the 2012 Women’s National Invitation Tournament title for their success this season.
“We are building a program,” Littell said. “Winning the WNIT helped us gain six more games last year in a tournament setting. ...
“The natural progression was for us to build from winning the WNIT last year to making the NCAA Tournament this year and hopefully winning same games.”
The Cowboys are 20-10 overall and are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s something that we had planned to get to in the beginning,” said OSU senior Toni Young, a 6-2 forward who averages 15.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. “It was one of our goals, and it’s really exciting to make it back here my senior year and go out with a bang.”
That approach isn’t lost on DePaul coach Doug Bruno, whose Blue Demons are in the NCAA Tournament for the 11th consecutive season.
“Each individual tournament appearance is earned by that specific team,” Bruno said. “Just because we went last year, this year’s group had to work and earn their way into this.
“It never gets old. When you coach college basketball, this is what you play for. ... It never gets old to see the excitement on the players’ faces when their names are called on selection day.”
And he know that the Cowboys had a lot to prove, as well.
“If we play really well against Oklahoma State, I just think out confidence is going to grow exponentialy from playing a good, strong ballgame against a really talented Oklahoma State team,” Bruno said. “Don’t forget, Oklahoma State won the WNIT last season.
“Only two teams finished the season with ‘W’ and they were one of them. They have not lost a postseason game in two years.”
PARITY VS. PARODY?
Hampton coach David Six isn’t buying that his team’s No. 15 seed is a result of parity in women’s basketball, nor that the men’s game has become more balanced as a natural progression.
“I think the opposite,” Six said of upsets in the men’s NCAA Tournament. “I think the NBA has created more parity in the men’s game. Kentucky had five first-round picks last year (after winning the NCAA championship) and lost in the first round of the NIT.
“You put those five guys back on that team, they’re not in the NIT.”