With Gray out, Duke women focus on season goals
With the reality that Chelsea Gray’s knee injury would keep her off the court still settling in, the Duke women’s basketball players gathered Monday amongst themselves.
No coaches, just players to talk about how they can continue a stellar season without their All-American point guard.
Ranked No. 5 in the country, the Blue Devils (24-1, 14-0 ACC) lost Gray to a knee injury during Sunday’s 81-70 win over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
A team harboring Final Four hopes, Duke now will to turn to freshman Alexis Jones and juniors Chloe Wells and Tricia Liston to keep things going in the backcourt without their top playmaker.
But one of the themes that junior forward Haley Peters said came from the players-only meeting was that the entire team has to help overcome Gray’s loss.
“We all have little things that we are going to have to step up and grow as a team,” Peters said.
On Tuesday, Duke announced that test results showed Gray needs surgery to repair her dislocated right knee. Any fleeting hopes of having her back for the NCAA Tournament, which Duke begins at home on March 24, were dashed when the MRI exam showed the extensive damage.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said Monday night she was already making plans for the rest of the season without Gray. So that news didn’t change her thoughts.
As great as Gray was playing, leading the ACC in assists and steals while averaging 13.1 points per game, Peters said Liston, Jones and Wells can team up to handle things.
The key, she said, is for them to be as comfortable running the offense and communicating on the court.
“For Chloe and Lex and Tricia, that’s important for them,” Peters said. “Chelsea has a great sense of play calling and being a vocal leader on the floor. For Lex and for Chloe, getting in with Coach P and getting on the same page is important.
“Tricia, you saw it in that game (against Wake Forest). Tricia is more than ready to be taking the point at some time when those two aren’t playing it.”
Liston scored 29 points against Wake Forest, earning ACC player of the week and the ESPN national player of the week awards. The team’s top 3-point shooter, Liston will help Jones and Wells with ball-handling now that Gray is done for this season.
Already a starting guard this season as a freshman, Jones had been sharing the backcourt with Gray. Now she’ll have even more playmaking responsibilities.
“The way she has handled everything as a freshman,” Peters said, “I don’t have any worries about her stepping into that role.”
Duke’s new challenge comes at a time when its schedule is the most daunting.
Three of Duke’s next four games are against ranked teams, beginning with No. 19 Florida State (20-5, 10-4) on Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium (6:30 p.m., FSN).
The Blue Devils travel to No. 8 Maryland (21-4, 12-2) on Sunday, followed by a Feb. 28 game at Miami (17-8, 8-6) and the regular-season ending home game with No. 16 North Carolina (23-4, 11-3).
Duke has dominated the ACC over the past two seasons, winning 16 consecutive league regular-season games and compiling a 29-1 conference record during that time.
While the loss of one of the nation’s top players is a setback, the Blue Devils intend to keep up their pace.
“We have a lot of games left to play,” Peters said. “We have an incredible team. People are going to get to step up in new ways. I think we are going to do fine.”