Spartans Revenge Dismisses Duke, 63-49
Player by Player
Devils Take Down Wingate, 99-31
The 2009-10 Duke season kicked off with the Blue-White game, with the twist seeing the entire roster go up against the a male scout team. Coach P noted that she had done this before at Michigan State, saying that some fans like to see the whole team compete against each other so as to see every player extensively, while others prefer to see the team play against a live opponent. In this instance, Duke didn't have much choice. Incoming frosh Janee Johnson will redshirt after tearing her ACL during the summer, while soph Shea Selby and fifth-year-senior Keturah Jackson are still recovering from off-season surgeries (knee and elbow, respectively). The latter two players have not yet been cleared for practice but both are expected to do so soon. Johnson was not at today's game due to illness. That left nine healthy players on the roster, who went up against a scout team that always challenged and sometimes beat them in practice.
Of McCallie's three teams at Duke, this was the most focused and physically fit I've seen such a unit at this time of the year. The team overwhelmed the scouts decisively, 110-43, with a 35-9 first quarter quickly putting an end to any suspense. The starting five of Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas, Karima Christmas, Bridgette Mitchell and Joy Cheek all looked to be in great shape (especially Cheek, who obviously slimmed down over the summer), comfortable with each other offensively and in synch on a series of devastating halfcourt traps. Jasmine noted that their speed overwhelmed the men, and while this was true (a 20-2 edge in points off turnovers in the first quarter alone), I thought it was their toughness that had them win so handily. In particular, the way Duke went after offensive rebounds, sometimes ripping them out of the hands of men's players, revealed just how much this group has started to internalize the lessons of toughness. It's one thing to preach it, but it's quite another thing to be beaten by a team with inferior talent (Michigan State) but superior desire and hustle. A 15-6 edge in second-chance points showed that the team could finish against physical opponents when getting another opportunity. The second saw a bit of a lack of focus on offense, as the team committed 15 turnovers.
Considering that the game action itself wasn't of much interest, let's go straight to player by player:
K.Thomas: It took awhile for Krystal to get going in this game at either end. Her only shot of the first half was a hook that rattled home, and she was also surprisingly passive with just two rebounds. That changed in the third quarter when she not only took over down the stretch offensively by aggressively hitting the boards, she was clearly altering shots every time a scout player came into the lane. She wound up with 9 points and 9 rebounds, mostly on second-chance opportunities and hooks. Defensively, she used her length and quickness to jump into passing lanes and switch over to long range shooters without sacrificing the paint. Thomas only wound up taking 5 shots (along with a trip to the foul line), a number I'd like to see rise as Duke proceeds. That imperative will be on her as well; she'll have to demand the ball so as to give Duke that credible low-post scoring presence. What was clear was that she moved as well as I've ever seen her, though she's still getting used to what she can do.
Cheek: Joy had a solid game and put up nice numbers across the board. She did miss a couple of threes, but she scored on a hook, an inbounds finish, a quick drive, and a stickback. In a game where her jumper wasn't falling, she found other ways to score. To go with her 10 points, she also had 5 rebounds, a couple of steals and a couple of assists. She also coughed up the ball 3 times, a problem that will need to be corrected if she's going to get the ball more for freelancing purposes this year. As I suspected, slimming down a bit actually made her more aggressive and active; she didn't sacrifice a bit of toughness or physicality by doing so. Indeed, she drew fouls by bodying out her opponent on a regular basis. A motivated and focused Cheek might well be Duke's primary scoring option this season, given the number of different things she can do on the floor. Her fading away down the stretch last year didn't help Duke's cause, and the Devils certainly can't afford for that to happen this year.
Mitchell: This was a brilliant, dominant performance for Bridgette, who stuffed a lot of numbers into 17 minutes. 24 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 turnovers and an assist equal a player who was all over the floor. Two of the turnovers came right after Duke came up with a steal and resulted in her trying to do a bit too much. In general, Bridgette had greater court awareness than I've ever seen from her. There was one play where she drove along the right baseline and missed a layup. A player on the opposite of the basket was there for the offensive rebound--and that player was Bridgette! She knew she had pushed the shot and worked quickly to be in precisely the correct position to get the board. Another impressive aspect of her game was not just the range on her shot, but the confidence with which she took it. She scored on a driving layup, a hook, a pull-up jumper from 15', two fastbreak finishes in traffic, 2 stickbacks, a lob finish, and a couple of threes. Mitchell's length bothered defenders and she did a fine job participating in traps. If she brings this level of focus to every game, she will be a nightmarish matchup for many teams.
Christmas: This was a solid, mistake-free game for Karima. What she's added to her game this year is the ability to find the open teammate much more quickly than before. She swung the ball around to J.Thomas and Rogers for threes, drove and hit Cheek & Mitchell for short jumpers and also found J.Thomas in transition. She sank a trio of her own threes, got a steal and finish a layup in traffic and got to the foul line. She was one of Duke's most fearsome players pressuring the ball, using her quick hands to generate 4 steals to go along with her 13 points and 5 boards. She's part of a starting five that simply flies down the court in transition and is learning how to finish.
J.Thomas: While McCallie has noted that Duke has a lot of leaders, it's pretty clear that Jasmine is the most important leader on the team. What this year will be about for her is learning how to pick her spots. In the first quarter, she misfired on her first two jumpers, then later drove to the basket for a three point play. She took over down the stretch of the quarter, sinking a three on pass from Christmas, getting another three point play and getting K.Thomas going with a pass for a hook. Jasmine was quieter in the second quarter, hitting just one three but setting up Scheer for a couple of threes. In the third quarter, she carved up the defense off the dribble with three driving layups. She finished with a solid 18 points, 6 assists, 3 steals and only 1 turnover. Her dribble-drive was simply too quick for any scout player to contain, but it was her ability to stop and go that made her such a tough matchup. As a junior, she's learned how to modulate her speed more effectively, instead of going full bore all the time. This game was a nice preview for how Jasmine might pick her spots; she took 13 shots (second-most on the team) but also led the team in assists. I expect those numbers to become a trend this season.
Scheer: What a difference a year makes. A year after a shaky start to her freshman year when she was trying to adjust to a very different environment, Scheer looked much more comfortable on the floor. Her calling card is her jump shot, something she had no trouble getting off considering her height (6-2) and the fact that she was shooting several of them from beyond NBA range. Scheer nailing threes made the zone the scout team threw on a bust, as she sank 4-7 from long range. Just as impressive was her ability to find open teammates, getting assists to Mitchell and Vernerey. I thought she played best at two guard; while not fleet of foot, she was long enough to bother players who tried to shoot over her. Her main point of emphasis this year (other than defense and physical play) will be her ballhandling, so as to better set up her own shot and get into the lane. Scheer's long-range shooting definitely adds another dimension to Duke's offense, and any deficiencies as a defender could be masked if she's matched up with the right group of teammates.
Hopkins: Chelsea was one of three players who had offseason surgery. While she was the first player to get back on the court, it's clear that she's not yet regained her explosive first step as of yet. She struggled against the scout press at times, twice turning the ball over under heavy pressure. Chelsea kept plugging away, breaking through one press with a spectacular behind-the-back dribble. As the game went on, she became more comfortable as a floor general, creating back-to-back three opportunities for Mitchell and Christmas. In the third quarter, she found Mitchell on a well-placed lob and pulled up for a 15' jumper. She will be battling Shea Selby for playing time this year and must be careful to take care of the ball above all else, especially since she's the truest point guard on the roster. She is expected to value the ball and make good decisions.
Vernerey: After watching Allison in action for a few minutes, she immediately reminded me of a past Duke player, and it took a while to think of which one: Payton Black, from the class of '99. Like Black, Vernerey is a tall, slender post. Like Black, Vernerey loves contact in the post so as to use her slippery up-and-under moves. At the moment, she's very much a pure post operating right next to the basket. However, she proved that she can handle the basketball, bringing it up the floor on one possession after a rebound. Vernerey is a lefty who finishes nicely with contact, getting fouled on two finishes and making another tough finish in transition. She fought hard for rebounds, never backing down when being bodied up by stronger players. There is clearly a lot of skill with young Vernerey and she's obviously not afraid to go up against older, tougher players. She will need to get stronger and more physical, but the game doesn't seem to be moving too fast for her at this point. I'll be curious to see what kind of range she has on her shot and how she does when she's double-teamed, but I can easily see the possibility of 8-10 minutes a game for her.
Rogers: Rogers is a connector. The frosh isn't someone who makes a lot of spectacular plays on her own, but manages to be in the right place at the right time. In terms of her tools, she's solid in all areas without being spectacular. She can shoot (she nailed a three in the corner), she can handle the ball, she can finish on breaks, she can find open teammates, and she can grab rebounds. Rogers clearly has a nose for the ball, picking up 6 steals (with 2 steal+layups). Most of them came about simply because of her court vision and defensive anticipation. She's one of those young players who feels like she's been with the team for years already. She will certainly help replace a lot of what Carrem Gay brought to the table, and it helps that she can play either forward spot since Duke has so many power forward-sized players. I suspect that her greatest asset will be her steadiness. She may not always put up huge numbers in every game, but I'm guessing that she will play hard, play smart and make several plays that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
Spartans Revenge Dismisses Duke, 63-49
Player by Player
Devils Take Down Wingate, 99-31