Tricia Liston plays starring role for No. 10 Duke
When basketball season started in November with Duke rated among the nation’s top five teams, most of the talk regarding coach Joanne P. McCallie’s team centered around guard Chelsea Gray and center Elizabeth Williams.
Both were named preseason all-ACC and considered all-American candidates.
Through fate and circumstance, another player has been most important for the second-seeded Blue Devils as they begin ACC Tournament play today (6 p.m., Fox Sports Carolinas) with a quarterfinal game against No. 7 seed Georgia Tech, which beat No 10 seed Virginia 77-76 in a second-round thriller Thursday night.
Senior guard Tricia Liston, the nation’s No. 1 3-point shooter at 50 percent, is No. 10 Duke’s lone player on the Wooden Award ballot, which was released Thursday. She also joined Williams on the all-ACC team that was compiled earlier this week.
This season tends to mirror Liston’s Duke career as she arrived rather under the radar but has blossomed into a superstar.
While decorated as a prep star at Fenwick High School in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, where she was Illinois’ two-time Gatorade Player of the Year, Liston was rated anywhere from No. 28 to No. 62 nationally in the class of incoming freshmen for the 2010-11 season.
While ultra-competitive, such rankings didn’t deter Liston from putting together a record-setting career at Duke, where she is the school’s all-time leader in 3-pointers (244).
“Tricia has been fantastic,” McCallie said. “She came in (four years ago) and I just thought she was a very special player. She wasn’t ranked as high as many players in the ACC in her freshman class. She has continued to improve every year.”
Known for her dead-eye shooting, Liston’s all-around game has developed. She is Duke’s leading scorer with a 17.9 average while also grabbing 5.4 rebounds and collecting 1.6 assists per game.
In 15 games this season, she’s topped the 20-point plateau.
Predominantly a shooter who got her shots by coming off screens or in catch-and-shoot situations, Liston has become a well-rounded scorer with the ability to drive to the basket and post up.
“There is no doubt that she has improved greatly from her first year to her senior year,” McCallie said. “She refused to be just a shooter, although she is the greatest shooter I’ve ever coached. She refused to be just that in terms of working on her defense and rebounding.”’
Her versatility is even more important to Duke this season as her career is winding down. Season-ending knee injuries to Gray and sophomore guard Alexis Jones robbed the Blue Devils of their starting backcourt.
Though 6-foot-1, Liston finds herself handling the ball more as a playmaker while also helping the team by hitting open shots.
“I’m still not the point guard that Chelsea is,” Liston freely admits. “I’ve just become more comfortable with that role and I’m embracing it. Throughout the years, I just worked on it. It’s become a position where I’m comfortable to play whereas it was something I wasn’t used to.”
In Liston’s first three seasons, the Blue Devils won two ACC Tournaments and reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight three times. Liston will play a major role if Duke adds to those accomplishments this month.
While the injury-riddled Blue Devils are being counted out, Liston will have none of that talk.
“A lot of people are underestiaming what we can do now as opposed to what we had,” Liston said. “Staying positive is important. We still are a very talented team. There is a lot to do this season.”
Liston has lived up to that motto with her career, which just might culminate with her making the Wooden Award all-American team.
McCallie has seen enough to not be surprised.
“She’s got such a competitive spirit,” McCallie said. “Wants to win. Wants to be successful and is willing to do whatever it takes. She’s just somebody that really wants to just do well. She’s got a great head on her shoulders, high IQ and she’s just been huge for us, throughout her career and with some of the difficulties we’ve faced.”