Texas A&M turned a 10 point halftime lead into an 18 point win today in College Station, spoiling career-high scoring days by Jasmine Thomas (26) and Allison Vernerey (11). The good news is that this was just Duke's first test, one in a long line. The tools and chemistry are
there to get better down the road.
Here are some thoughts on this somewhat stunning loss:
- The Aggies, who knocked Duke out of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, are much, much better this year than anticipated. While not
exceptionally deep, they threw a tough 8-player rotation at Duke that easily
withstood pressure. They were a perfect test for Duke in the sense that their
quickness and athleticism was scary, overcoming Duke's superior size advantage.
Point guard Sydney Colson did a great job of attacking Duke's press, wing
Tanisha Smith hurt Duke inside and out, and post Danielle Adams killed Duke
from the three point line and in the lane, all in just 22 minutes.
- The Aggies had the ammunition, but this win was fueled by a superior game
plan. Gary Blair was able to scout Duke two nights earlier and knew that he
couldn't compete against Duke's size, but he did see a few things he could
exploit. When Duke fell behind, they started to press, but the Aggies were
ready and shredded the Blue Devil press most of the game. Duke did get 22
points off 17 turnovers, but they were burned for an astounding 24 fast break
points. Secondly, Duke frequently slipped into their matchup zone, which A&M
shredded repeatedly. There was a lack of patience on the part of staff and
players, where they repeatedly tried for home runs when a bunch of base hits
would have sufficed. The old truism applies: if you find yourself in a hole,
stop digging. The press and the zone weren't working on defense, but Duke
stubbornly stuck to both.
- On offense, Duke was just as impatient. The Devils tried to pound it in the
post repeatedly, and A&M simply packed the lane and dared them to shoot. Duke
took that bait, shooting just 33% from the field. Jasmine Thomas in particular
took it upon herself to take open shots but simply couldn't connect, shooting a
horrendous 9-28. While she didn't shoot well, the rest of the team again struggled
from long range (0-6) and couldn't force it in off the dribble, as shotblocker
Damitria Buchanan was waiting for them (7 blocks).
- The key sequence of the first half came when Allison Vernerey missed a shot
and A&M's Sydney Carter drained a three in transition. Adams blocked Bridgette
Mitchell and Carter hit another three in transition to put A&M up by 12 points.
Duke fought an uphill battle the rest of the half, cutting the lead to 6 with
under a minute to go. A&M scored inside, Jasmine missed a three and Vernerey
fouled going after a rebound, giving the Aggies 2 freebies. Keturah Jackson
ran up the floor and got a clean look at the basket, missed, got a rebound and
missed again at the half to give A&M a 10 point lead.
- Duke gamely battled back in the second half, cutting the lead to 3 thanks to some
patience on offense and some timely steals. But then back-to-back J.Thomas misses from three allowed A&M to push the lead back up to 10. The real key came when Duke
was trying to fight back but gave up back-to-back-to-back threes that pushed the
lead up to 18 with under ten minutes left. That was simply too big a lead to
overcome, especially against a team that had pretty much figured Duke out.
So now it's back to the drawing board. This game wasn't a failure of effort;
Duke got 23 offensive rebounds and won the overall battle, 46-41. It wasn't
even a failure of precision, as the team only had 15 turnovers. Duke got 24
free throw attempts, showing that they were trying to attack the rim, but
simply couldn't do it well enough.
Duke will play a lot of athletic teams this
year and simply has to find a way to become effective. Defensively, Duke will simply need to be more patient and stay in their base man-to-man. It may not generate a lot of steals, but it will get stops, and it will lead to rebounds.
Duke returns home to face Georgia Southern this Thursday at 7 PM, tickets are available at GoDuke.com or at the door. DWHoops will provide full coverage of this game including photos.