Duke backcourt condition 'guarded' as NCAA opener looms

Mar. 21, 2014 @ 05:26 PM

Duke has dug deep into its lineup entering the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament but Coach Joanne McCallie is optimistic about the Blue Devils’ chances for a successful run.

“I’ve been looking for any place, ever, where something comparable has happened,” McCallie said. “It’s obviously been a very difficult situation. It’s been quite a year.”

Duke (27-6), a second seed, opens against No. 15 seed Winthrop (24-8) today at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the opening round of the Lincoln Regional (11 a.m., ESPN2). In the second game of today’s doubleheader at Cameron, DePaul (27-6) meets Oklahoma (18-14) at 1:30 p.m. The winner advance to the round of 32 and will meet at Cameron at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

The NCAA women’s tournament will hold another opening round doubleheader Sunday at Carmichael Arena at UNC Chapel Hill on Sunday where North Carolina (24-9) will host UT-Martin (24-7) at 3 p.m. (ESPN) and Michigan State (22-9) will meet Hampton (28-4) at 12:30 p.m. also in the opening round of the Stanford Regional.

Sunday’s Chapel Hill winners will play a second round game on Tuesday, also at Carmichael.

Duke enters the tournament with a patchwork backcourt. Junior Ka’lia Johnson has been running the point since the Blue Devils lost their top two point guards — Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones — as well as backup combo-guard Chloe Wells to season-ending injuries during the season.

In addition, highly regarded freshman guard Kianna Holland, who was sidelined by injury, transferred to Ohio State in December.

McCallie said Johnson has moved over from her natural position as Duke’s third guard to lead the team without missing a beat.

“She’s really been dunked into this role and she is quite comfortable with it because it is part of her personality,” McCallie said. “Ka’lia is a lot better commander than a follower. She doesn’t exactly like to sit on the sidelines.”

All the load isn’t on Johnson’s shoulders, though. Senior Tricia Liston has taken on some of the responsibility from the shooting guard position and so has Richa Jackson.

“We have a three-way split,” McCallie said.

Duke’s rotation also has been affected and the Blue Devils are down to eight players who get almost all of the minutes, according to McCallie.

Senior forward Haley Peters said the team has adjusted well despite the loss of Gray, Jones and Wells.

“We’ve been remarkably consistent throughout it all,” Peters said. Our mindset is that everybody believes in us as a team. When things have happened, I think we’ve been pretty quick to readjust our mindset and get back on the same page.”

Winthrop enters the game as the champions of the Big South and is making its NCAA Tournament debut.

Second-year Winthrop coach Kevin Cook said the Eagles need to survive the first four of five minutes of the game and not get caught up in the moment to have a chance to win.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” Cook said. “If we can survive the first 4 of 5 minutes then we’ll be golden. This is a one-game series, not five or seven and anything can happen.”

Cook said his team compares favorably to the Blue Devils, with each having five players who average 30 or more minutes per game. Winthrop is led by senior guard Dequesha McClanahan (17.6 ppg) and freshman forward Erica Williams (15.8).

“We know we have nothing to lose,” McClanahan said. “We’re going top come out, play hard and leave it all out there. Whatever happens, happens.”

Winthrop also has a local connection as reserve forward Zoe Vernon, a Carolina Friends School grad from Chapel Hill, has seen action in 27 of the Eagles’ 32 games.

Duke is playing Winthrop for only the second time since the Eagles moved to Division I in 1986. The Blue Devils won their first meeting easily 80-45 that year.

Cameron Indoor Stadium has been kind to Duke in the tournament. The Blue Devils are 20-1 in tournament games at home, including winning their last 18 in a row in the friendly confines.

“Playing in Cameron is really nice for us,” Liston said. “But we’re just trying to take it one game at a time and earn the right to play another game. The tournament is a really fun time but at the same time, any game can be your last so we’re just taking it one game at a time and really living in the moment.”

The other game pits Oklahoma and DePaul. The winners will advance to the second round and will play at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.

 

NCAA LINCOLN REGIONAL/DURHAM SITE COACHES' NEWS CONFERENCE FRIDAY

(Courtesy Duke Sports Information)

 

2014 NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship

head coach quotes

First Round · No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 DePaul

Cameron Indoor Stadium · Durham, N.C.

Friday, March 21

 

First Round Quotes – DePaul

 

Doug Bruno, DePaul Head Coach

 

Opening statement:

We are really excited to be competing in the NCAA tournament. We look at Oklahoma as a 10th-ranked team in the country as they were earlier in the year and not as a 10-seed; they’re a very good basketball team. I’m very proud of what our players have achieved to get to this point, and yet we still have a lot to prove as a group.

 

On the Big East and whether it’s struggling for respect:

We love the conference that we’re in and it’s a really, really strong conference top to bottom. The rest of the country hasn’t had to compete against UConn either, and the ACC found out this year what it’s like to compete against Notre Dame … It’s the way the world is working in collegiate athletics- our only choice is to move forward and be the best that we can be.

 

On their momentum going into the tournament:

I think that our group has done a good job this year. We got off to a slow start, 4-3, and I thought we were really playing poorly … we won 6 in a row, we won the Duel in the Desert, we beat a talented Washington team that beat Stanford… then the league started and we came out 2-2, so we took five steps forward and a couple steps back. We got on another little bit of a roll and then we regressed a little bit in mid-February and then we finished strong, so I think as a team that we’re really similar to Oklahoma in the sense that when we’re good, we’re really good, but we can also be really average if we’re not playing well.

 

On the Big East’s identity of Catholic basketball schools:

I think it makes more sense because football’s football, and not football’s not football. That makes more sense- the religious thing being what it may, Butler’s still not a Catholic school. So it’s really about football. I guess football is a religion so I guess it is a religious thing.

 

On the three-point shooters among the four teams:

I think it’s not only that we have three-point shooters, it’s that we have coaches that understand why the three-point shot works- that is to spread the floor and utilize players who can get to the basket and people that play at the basket. So I think the three-point shot is going to be very important but I think it’s also going to be very important because it demonstrates the rest of the balance of each team. I think that’s really where it’s going to have its best, most positive effect.

 

On style changes from last year to this year:

We’re playing the style that I love to coach; I’ve been coaching 41 years and decided to try to play this way. I think it’s the way women’s’ basketball needs to be played to be watched. We started this way back a number of years ago, we’ve been pretty injured the last five or six years. It’s really tough to play the way we play with seven players, you really need nine or ten players to be able to play the way that we do play, and this year we’ve been for the most part healthy, and that’s just something we haven’t had the last couple of years. It feels a lot better this year to play the style of basketball that I love to coach and the style that I feel is the trademark of DePaul basketball.

 

 

2014 NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship

player quotes

First Round · No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 DePaul

Cameron Indoor Stadium · Durham, N.C.

Friday, March 21

 

First Round Quotes – DePaul

 

Brittany Hrynko, DePaul Guard

 

On playing in a familiar arena:

I feel the same way as Jasmine [Penny]. Just like she said we still need to get used to the floor. We still have freshmen that are on the team that have to get used to the floor as well.

 

On preparing for upcoming games:

Just taking it one game at a time. We’ve been doing that all season, so just us being in the tournament and taking it one game at a time will help us get to the next level.

 

On difference in conference and strength of Big East:

It’s just a tough conference for us without UConn and Notre Dame. It’s still tough for us… just take it one game at a time and that’s what we’ve been doing.

 

On refocusing on the next level:

Last year we didn’t defend or rebound so this year just come in to this game ready to defend and make sure we play smart and intelligent with each other.

 

On what DePaul does when playing their best:

Playing smart and intelligent … just making sure we get our teammates involved, just staying together and playing together.

 

 

Jasmine Penny, DePaul Forward

 

On playing in a familiar arena:

I guess since we have experience from playing here last year that will help us out, but we still need to get shots up and get used to the floor.

 

On preparing for upcoming games:

I agree. Coach has really been on us all year about focusing on the task at hand so I think just preparing for Oklahoma and being ready for this game is very key.

 

On difference in conference and strength of Big East:

Even with the two teams gone, I still feel like it’s still a strong conference. We’ve had tough games night in and night out in the Big East so every game we need to go out and compete as hard as we can against any team because any team can win on any given night.

 

On refocusing on the next level:

We’ve really been focusing on being a better defensive team, as well as rebounding and playing with the smarts that our guards do have. Also just getting off to a quick and efficient start which is something we didn’t do last year, which will be very helpful for us this year.

 

On what DePaul does when playing their best:

Our coach really works on us running in practice, running in between half court drills … so I think just getting out there running and playing smart, guards getting passes down low, shooting on the outside.

 

 

2014 NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship

head coach quotes

First Round · No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 DePaul

Cameron Indoor Stadium · Durham, N.C.

Friday, March 21

 

First Round Quotes  – Oklahoma State

 

Sherri Coale, Oklahoma Head Coach

Opening Statement:

“Well we are thrilled to be here. Anytime that bracket is introduced and your name is on it, you have to understand that it is an honor and a privilege to be invited to the NCAA National Tournament. We are super excited to be here. I can tell you already we have not been here 24 hours and Duke is very prepared. It’s been one of the most organized, hospitable first rounds we’ve ever been to. So hats off to Duke University and the job they’ve done in preparation for this event. We can’t wait to play.”

 

On how they are approaching the tournament:

“Well I’ve always believed that optimism is always an intelligent decision. We’ve had games this season where we’ve played extremely well, we’ve had halves where we play extremely well; consistency has been an issue for us. We all felt that as the season’s gone along that if we can just string together…sometimes it’s minutes, sometimes it’s halves, sometimes it’s games, but if we can just string some good stuff together, then there’s no telling what could happen. We were never able, during the course of Big 12 play, to get momentum, and I think that’s so huge in major college basketball. We were never able to establish it, for whatever reason; crazy schedule glitches, obviously we have some fantastic teams in our league, we lost some games in overtime, there were just all kinds of little things that when you add them up together we were unable to get momentum. I think this break has been really good and that we could shake off some of those shackles and get back to those things we know we can do, those things we know we’re good at. I think the approach is wholesale. To specifically answer your question I think it’s definitely from the coaching staff and I think it’s owned by the players as well. I think it’s the right approach because they’ve chosen to own it.”

 

On matchup against DePaul:

They’re really good. There were three things that I knew before the bracket came up and we got DePaul and watched film on them. Number one, they will understand how to play. Doug Bruno is a teacher, he is a teacher first, and his teams always understand how to play. Their offensive spacing is exquisite, their movement off penetration … you can tell they know exactly where to go and what to do. Secondly I knew that they would have a great skill set. They always have guys who can dribble, pass, catch and shoot. It sounds ridiculous, but there are a lot of really talented teams in this tournament that can’t do that; these guys can do that. They can all dribble, pass, catch and shoot. The third thing I knew about the Doug Bruno team is that they would play hard, and they do play very hard for an entire 40 minutes. So when I watched the film I wasn’t surprised and yet at the same time I was a little bit annoyed because, man, they’re good, they’re really good. They know who they are, they play towards their strengths, they play together and they’re just a really talented team.

 

On intensity of calls being made or not made during the tournament:

“You know, that’s a great question. I think all of us as coaches are anticipating what it’s going to be like because of the big philosophical shift this year in officiating as we’ve really tried and I think officials by and large have done a good job of trying to allow movement to call fouls when movement is impeded. More on the perimeter probably than they have on the post but I think they get that and they’ll come along in that regard too. But I think there is a feeling that every year when you move into the NCAA Tournament, now anything goes. I think the message that the coaches send the officials in the offseason was that we don’t want that to happen anymore. We want basketball to be basketball. In order for it to be solid basketball, they have to have the freedom to move and it will be interesting to see if that focus continues and I believe that it will. In every official that we’ve had all year, in the comments before the game, they’re really, really cognizant of trying to clean the game up and make it a more free flowing game, a  prettier game, a more aesthetic game for fans. I expect that they will continue to be diligent about that in the NCAA Tournament.”

 

 

2014 NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship

player quotes

First Round · No. 10 Oklahoma vs. No. 7 DePaul

Cameron Indoor Stadium · Durham, N.C.

Friday, March 21

 

First Round Quotes – Oklahoma

 

Morgan Hook, Oklahoma guard

 

On having a 14 day break before the tournament:

“I think we’re all just really eager to get back out on the court. We have taken this as a different season, and a new approach. It’s just one of those times you are ready to get back out on the court again.”

 

On what to expect from the tournament in comparison to the rest of the season:

“Yeah like she [Aaryn Ellenberg] said, it’s a clean slate. The year hasn’t gone how we’ve wanted it to go, and now it’s just that new shot, and a completely clean slate.”

 

Aaryn Ellenberg, Oklahoma guard

 

On having a 14 day break before the tournament:

“I mean, it is a break from Big 12 and getting beat up a lot. So, I mean just to get back to focusing on us and what we do best has been really good for us so far.”

 

On what to expect from the tournament in comparison to the rest of the season:

“I think right now it is really just a clean slate, and whatever happened in the past, happened. We’re looking to turn around everything in the past and really take a step forward to bring these younger guys along. A lot of us have experience being here, so for them it’s just about that whole molding experience, and getting them prepared for that.”