NCAA: Stanford Takes Out Duke, 81-69
Player by Player
Denver Hires Abby Waner as Assistant Coach
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Duke going into the 2011-2012 season, despite the fact that one of its most productive senior classes ever had departed after winning consecutive ACC championships and making it to a pair of Elite Eights. Without the firepower of Jasmine Thomas, the defense of Krystal Thomas and the sheer athleticism of Karima Christmas, how would a team dominated by sophs and frosh do in an ACC that featured loaded Miami and Maryland clubs? The answer would be "quite well, thanks" as Duke rolled to a 15-1 mark in the ACC and a 27-6 overall record. The team went through a number of growing pains and suffered some setbacks in the form of suspensions and injury, but they still won the ACC regular season title outright and made it to their third straight Elite Eight. Sophomore Chelsea Gray became a star, freshman Elizabeth Williams was the best first-year player in the country, and the rest of the sophs made major strides in leading Duke to an exciting and fun year. After several years of grind-it-out, predictable offense, coach McCallie turned the metaphorical keys over to Gray and allowed her to call plays and freelance. The result was a record-breaking year for Chelsea in terms of assists and a fluid, powerful offense that featured any number of players who could score in double figures on a given night. Duke still played solid defense, in part because of the tremendous shotblocking ability of Williams, who set an ACC freshman record in blocks on the way to being ACC rookie of the year and ACC defensive player of the year.
Duke started off the season with a tough road win against BYU. The Cougars would go on to have a fine season and came close to pulling off the upset, but key shots by Gray and Williams (who overcame big-time foul trouble in the second half) sealed the win. Duke rolled to sloppy but easy wins against Auburn and Western Kentucky, where they won on sheer talent while turning the ball over a lot. In the Bahamas, Duke crushed Gardner-Webb but blew an 18-point lead against top five team Notre Dame, who turned Duke over in the second half and won at the buzzer. It was a bitter pill to swallow after the Devils carved up the Irish with great ease in the first half behind Williams. Senior guard Shay Selby was suspended indefinitely after this game for breaking a team rule. Soph Haley Peters had a big game against Purdue in the annual ACC-Big Ten challenge, actively hunting her jump shot when it became clear that the Boilers were going to double-team Williams. Fellow soph Richa Jackson and junior Allison Vernerey had big second halves, with Vernerey giving Duke separation with three consecutive baskets.
After destroying future ACC team Pitt in Cameron (a game that featured the return of the always entertaining coach Agnus Berenato), Duke went to Rupp Arena to face Kentucky in a game that drew a huge crowd. Kentucky's press wound up hurting Duke, who turned the ball over a lot. Bigger problems included getting outrebounded by the Wildcats and Gray not having the ball in her hands enough. Duke bounced back with easy victories against USC-Upstate and UNC-Wilmington before traveling to Philly to play Temple. The tough Owls once again gave Duke all they could handle, but the Devils built an early 18 point lead and closed out the game with some big shots by Gray. Prior to that game, it was announced that Chloe Wells was suspended indefinitely for another vague team-oriented reason, but that Selby would be reinstated after her short suspension. Duke began the season starting Gray, Wells and Selby, and while that lineup generated some turnovers with its ball pressure, it didn't always make sense in terms of who was really in charge of the offense. It was also around this time that it was announced that frosh Amber Henson would be redshirting the rest of the season in order to get her kneecap surgically repaired, a problem that had been troubling her since high school.
Soph Tricia Liston scored 18 points in Duke's ACC opener against a solid Virginia team that played a disciplined zone. Williams recorded a triple-double in an easy win on the road against Wake Forest, though Duke was once again careless with the ball. Duke broke open a close game with NC State late with a game-closing 20-2 run, as Vernerey once again gave her team separation with a couple of long jump hooks and Richa Jackson dropped 19 points on the Wolfpack Women. Liston's 20 points helped Duke outshoot Florida State, a team Duke couldn't stop in the low post. The Devils went to Blacksburg and uncorked an early 22-2 run to knock out Virginia Tech early and cruise the rest of the way, setting up showdown games with Georgia Tech and Maryland. Duke went to Atlanta and shot 68% from the floor and broke out to an early 24-8 lead. Duke broke Tech's pressure and held them at bay despite a number of comeback attempts, as Williams scored 20 points for Duke and Jackson had 17.
Maryland came to Cameron to renew their rivalry with Duke in what might be the last year of the traditional home-and-home between the two schools. The game lived up to its billing, an 80-72 thriller that was packed with tremendous shot-making by both teams. Peters scored a career-high 21 points as the Terps gave her open looks as they concentrated on Williams, while Gray had 17 points and 11 assists. She hit a key three, had a drive that caught the Terps off-guard, sank 2 big free throws and then salted the game away with a steal in the last three minutes of this contest. After going to 8-0 with an easy win over Clemson, Duke lost in Cameron to UConn, though the margin was "just" 15 points this time around. Duke actually made them sweat for a while and played good defense, but the Huskies hit timely shots in the second half and turned Duke into a one-on-one, jump-shooting team. The Devils bounced back with another dominant but sloppy game against Wake Forest before facing UNC in Cameron. After a tight opening seven minutes, Duke bombed the Heels all the way back to Chapel Hill with 8 threes and a 41-14 run that broke the game open. Liston had 23 points to lead a balanced scoring attack. Duke nearly blew their momentum against a Boston College team that was 0-10 in the ACC. Duke was up by just 1 with three minutes to go, but Gray hit back-to-back threes and sank 2 critical foul shots to put the game away. Williams had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 8 blocks as the Devils went to 11-0 in the league, just ahead of Miami.
That BC game pointed to the fact that Duke was starting to feel the doldrums of late-season conference play. They did enough to win against Florida State and Virginia Tech, but lost Jackson for the season with an ACL tear. Duke absorbed their first league loss in the return game at Maryland, falling to an inspired Maryland club despite breaking out to an early 12 point lead. Alyssa Thomas blocked a last-second three by Peters to preserve the win. Gray and Williams led Duke to a showdown win against Miami that clinched the top seed in the ACC tournament. Miami never gave up and kept chipping away against big Duke leads, and pulled to within 3 with a minute left. Gray froze the Miami defense and then drove right down the lane for a layup to give Duke the cushion it needed. The Devils followed up that win by edging UNC in Chapel Hill, as Duke nearly blew a 17 point second half lead. Peters, who got 20 stitches in her upper lip at halftime after absorbing a swung elbow by UNC's Chay Shegog, hit a key shot in the second half to preserve the win. Duke had clinched its first outright ACC title since 2007.
I don't know if Duke took NC State lightly in the ACC tournament, if the team was feeling burned out after their tough ACC stretch run, or if they simply didn't play well, but they were embarrassed by the Pack and became the first #1 seed to lose to a #8 or #9 seed in the history of the tournament. That loss likely cost Duke a potential #1 seed as well as the opportunity to play its first round games in Chapel Hill and its regional games in Raleigh. True enough, Duke was a #2 seed in the Fresno region and had to travel to Nashville to play Samford in their first round game. A newly energized Duke rolled over their opponent in Vanderbilt's weird gym that lacked air conditioning. Having a game to adjust to those conditions made it easier for Duke when they faced 7 seed Vandy in the second round. Despite the Commodores shooting 12-26 from the three point line, Duke rolled to an easy 96-80 win as Peters had 25 points and Liston 23.
In Fresno, Duke overcame an early 15-7 deficit against #3 seed St. John's by going to their matchup zone and cutting off the Red Storm's penetration. Duke closed the half on a 13-0 run that included a halftime buzzer-beating three by Liston. Selby, playing on a bad foot, had 18 points and 7 assists as she abused St. John's throughout the game with drives and jumpers. Duke's season came to an end against #1 seed Stanford, who limited Duke's shooters by guarding everyone one-on-one in a man defense and got key jumpers from unexpected sources. Duke managed to pull within 8 in the second half, but they blew a couple of opportunities to get closer. Still, Duke went about as far as expected, given the fact that they were shipped out west and were down three players who would either potentially be starting or a big part of the extended rotation. The sophomore class matured and stepped up as leaders, and this season could be a harbinger of greater things to come for the Blue Devils.
1. A gallery chronicling the 2012 year in photos will be published later this offseason. Other forthcoming offseason articles will include a first look at the incoming freshmen, a final 2012 Devils in Detail, our team-by-team ACC wrapup, a look at Rob's Wooden Award ballot, and a continuation of our series of Duke's greatest players.
2. 2013 DWHoops memberships will be available soon! We'll post details in the form of an article at that time.
3. We're excited to announce our formation of the ACC Women's Basketball Digest. Our 2013 DWHoops site membership will include a free founding membership in the Digest and a complimentary digital copy the ACC Women's Basketball Digest 2013 Season Preview magazine. The Digest site will provide a new and more appropriate home for our ACC Women's Basketball coverage beyond the Blue Devils. For the Digest site and preview we will be expanding our team to provide wider coverage of the league. We're very excited about this development and look forward to sharing more in weeks to come!
NCAA: Stanford Takes Out Duke, 81-69
Player by Player
Denver Hires Abby Waner as Assistant Coach