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2009 Blue-White Scrimmage
Devils Stifle the Seawolves, 100-32
Devils Take Down Wingate, 99-31
By Rob Clough
November 6, 2009

Thomas and Vernerey Lead Duke Scorers in Solid Exhibition Outing

In Duke's first game against live competition, the Devils crushed Wingate 99-31. The Bulldogs had more turnovers (41) than points and had trouble getting anything resembling a good look against Duke's suffocating defense. Offensively, Duke sputtered at times in the first half as they tried to force the ball inside on every possession and couldn't hit open jumpers. The Devils responded by going even bigger and getting great production from frosh Allison Vernerey, whose left-handed hook shots were unstoppable. Seven players were in double figures for Duke, including soph Kathleen Scheer with 12 points. The Devils rolled up 26 steals and swatted 13 shots while committing only 11 turnovers. The best thing about the game was the overall intensity of the team, which had few lapses of concentration.

Any questions surrounding Duke during the McCallie era have rarely revolved around defense. Duke has played intense, physical, hard-nosed defense, and this has saved them in many games. What's been distressing is the team's offense. The problems range from passing & ball handling concerns to shot selection to players & coaches being on the same page with regard to philosophy. To a certain degree, McCallie tried to fit certain players left-hand feet into right-hand shoes, and the result was frustration for all parties. With this team, there's no longer a sense of players wishing for old ways to come back. Instead, the veterans seem to be very much on the same page both with each other and the coaches and have a better understanding on how to implement what they want. In the early part of this season, we are seeing players step up to answer a lot of questions about the team. To wit: who replaces Chante Black's production inside? Who replaces Abby Waner's ball handling and deep range? Who replaces Carrem Gay's hustle?

While the class of 2009 was an enormously productive one, the team we're left with this year reminds me a little of the 2000 Duke squad. That team lost 6 seniors but were left with the hardest-working players, hustlers who would play any role to make the team win. That group had veterans who stepped up their scoring while continuing to do the dirty work and integrated a couple of key young players into the mix as well. This Duke team has a strong veteran core with high-energy players like Bridgette Mitchell and Karima Christmas, an explosive guard in Jasmine Thomas, a powerful but versatile forward in Joy Cheek and a potentially dominant defensive ace in Krystal Thomas. They've been playing together for several years and a chemistry has developed with that group, even if their chemistry on the floor is somewhat unconventional.

Against Wingate, a Division II college in western North Carolina, Duke continued its take-no-prisoners approach on defense and paired it with a commitment to getting the ball into the low post. In the early going, Duke was successful in pounding the ball inside but missed jump shots and layups. The game had a grinding quality to it, where the Devils slowly built a lead but would then take bad shots or look stagnant on offense. Eventually, the undersized Bulldogs (they started four players under six feet) simply packed the lane tight and dared Duke to shoot. Considering the Devils missed their first 8 threes and bricked some shorter shots as well, this was a good strategy. Duke's response to this tactic was an interesting one: they went even bigger, bringing in intriguing frosh Allison Vernerey along with K.Thomas. That helped open things up a bit as Duke turned a 27-13 lead with under eight minutes left into a 25-2 run with a minute left in the half. While Scheer hit a couple of treys, Vernerey and Thomas combined for 8 points in the run.

Wingate played scrappy, unified team ball and never stopped working. That kept Duke sharp in the second half as the Devils held the Bulldogs to just 2 points during the first eleven minutes. Meanwhile, Jasmine Thomas took over with 7 points and 3 assists as the Devils rolled up a 28-2 run. Duke shot an impressive 57% in the half and got extensive playing time for the frosh, the sophs and K.Thomas, who started to loosen up offensively down the stretch. This game was less about measuring the team against a certain level of talent and more about establishing the right habits, both physically and mentally. It was also about exploring different combinations on the floor and developing chemistry and relationships. We'll see how this continues to develop when Duke plays Alaska-Anchorage on Sunday.

Player-by-Player Recaps

K.Thomas: Coach McCallie noted that she was disappointed that the team didn't get the ball more to Krystal in the Blue-White game, but also said that she has a responsibility to actively call for it. The latter problem played out here to a certain extent, as Krystal looked a bit stiff and hesitant when she had the ball. She missed a couple of easy hooks and layups in the first half and had another shot bounce off the underside of the backboard in the second half. Thomas seemed just a bit out of sync with her teammates during the first half and didn't have the same kind of alert body language on offense. Defense was another matter; she was a monster, swatting 4 shots in the half and 6 for the game. One of the blocks found her simply ripping the ball down after she stuffed it at the basket. Another one saw her fly from out of nowhere to reject a seemingly wide-open player in the corner from three. What got her going in the first half was a stickback, but she was clearly frustrated by Wingate clogging up the lane. In the second half, Krystal came alive by finishing two lobs (combining her height and athleticism), finding Scheer for a three and getting a stickback. One problem is that Krystal is the only current starter who never started a game last year, and it's taking her time to get comfortable with this group of players in game situations. The key for her will be aggressiveness without picking up fouls, something she did very nicely in this game. She just needs that aggressiveness to pick up on the offensive end. While her 12 points and 6 rebounds were decent, she might have had more like 20 and 10 given the competition and the opportunities she had.

Cheek: Joy had a fantastic first half and a solid (if much less spectacular) second half. The best thing about her game was her focus at both ends. There weren't any silly turnovers, awkward shots or questionable decisions. While she fired away from long range about six times, she made an impact by using her skill and size as a post. On several occasions, she'd dribble in from the wing, post up her opponent, and then use multiple spins and drop-steps to get great scoring position and then finish. She moved the ball around nicely and really distinguished herself with an impressive 13 rebounds. Perhaps the most impressive thing about her performance was the way she ran the floor, including one player where she went coast-to-coast after a steal. A focused, fit Cheek is a match-up nightmare for opponents and could emerge as a go-to scorer.

Mitchell: Bridgette came out blazing with an early post, drive and free throws. Foul trouble hurt her a bit and she seemed a bit rushed when she was baited into a player-control foul. Her line (9 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists) was a solid one, but not quite as dominant as in the scrimmage. Still, there were some plays where her offensive rebounding was simply astonishing. I don't think Mitchell is ready to become an every-game scorer, but there's no question that she raises the team's energy and keeps things moving. The Devils need to stay in motion and exploit their strengths from baseline to baseline, and I think Bridgette could be a key glue player to that end. If her jumper (especially on the move) becomes more consistent, then she could truly have a special senior year.

Christmas: Karima was very quiet in the first half. When her teammates were looking for their short early on, she was content to feed the ball to the post (back-to-back assists to Thomas and Cheek for easy inside buckets). Then, out of nowhere, she exploded to the hoop on a drive. If she looked a little hesitant, it may have been because she missed her first couple of threes and perhaps started thinking about her shot too much. When she just relied on her instincts, the game-changing Karima emerged. The play of the game came when Karima dove to the floor for a steal and flipped it to a cutting Vernerey for a score while on her back. In the second half, she restored order by draining a couple of treys and finishing a fast break. In the end, she had 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and no turnovers.

J.Thomas: Jasmine is by far the most explosive scorer on the team, but she's still searching for a consistent comfort zone. That's because she's trying to balance her duties as point guard with exploiting defensive matchups. That does make her a bit hesitant on offense at times, especially when she's struggling with her jumpshot. She also missed a couple of layups in traffic that she should have finished. When she took a breath and got into the flow of the game, she was hard to stop. All of her points in the first half came off of steals and drives to the basket. She's making a point of trying to become a more aggressive defender, and her 7 steals were certainly a testament to the amount of ball pressure she was applying in this game. In the second half, she hit a couple of jumpers and her little push shot off the dribble, all while serving up assists. It was her focus that led to Duke's huge run in the second half. More impressively, she wound up with just 2 turnovers and shot 50% from the field, leading all scorers with 17. If she can just get her three-ball to fall a bit more consistently, she'd be an ACC player of the year candidate.

Vernerey: Another very impressive from the young center, who seems to relish contact. I've rarely seen a young player who had such a well-developed understanding of what she did well on the floor and what her limitations were. As a left, Vernerey is impossible to stop on the left block one-on-one. Her lefty hook shot is pretty much money every time, even from as far away as ten feet. Once she's in a rhythm, she's especially hard to stop. However, she can't do anything with her right hand at the moment, so teams will try to push her to the right block. Vernerey understands this, and demonstrated that understanding by passing out of the post when she was on the right side and repositioning, or else taking a couple of dribbles across the lane and resetting herself up on the left block. Vernerey's best quality is her relentlessness on the floor. She wants to punish opponents who don't respect her ability to score, but also manically attacks opponents on defense. While her 4 blocks were impressive, it was the way she went all over the floor to pick off 6 steals. One play that can't be quantified by a box score occurred when Wingate missed and the ball bounced to a Bulldog in the corner. You could tell that Vernerey knew that she should have had that board, but reacted by pinning the defender on the sideline and forcing her into a turnover. Vernerey also showed the ability to run the floor, dribble the length of the floor and move without the ball. Her 16 points were an impressive debut, but she'll need to prove that she can score against opponents who match her height who can push her around physically.

Hopkins: Chelsea continues to work to get back into form. She has yet to regain her full quickness and explosive first step; at one point, Wingate was pretty much daring her to break them down off the dribble and she couldn't do it. There were times when she was also less than smooth passing the ball, but I saw it simply as a matter of growing pains. The fact is that she has a tremendous opportunity to seize time as a backup point guard, especially with her defensive aggressiveness and solid floor vision. The lob she threw to K.Thomas for a score was a thing of beauty. She started to loosen up down the stretch when she was given extensive playing time. She got steals for layups and generally looked comfortable running the team. Hopkins simply needs more reps and in particular needs to work with the first team a bit more.

Scheer: All of Kathleen's current pluses and minuses as a player were on display in this game. It took the team awhile to figure out that she was even in the game, as they overlooked her a couple of times when she was wide-open from three. When she did get a chance to shoot, she was simply lights-out, draining shots from 22' away. There aren't many players in the country who have her range, but Duke doesn't run an offense that sets up shooters like Scheer with a lot of screens to free her. One could see her try to find ways to create her own shot, with varying degrees of success. Scheer is also clearly trying to diversify her offensive game with drives. She had a very physical drive in the second half, scoring off the dribble with a defender all over her. Scheer also nailed another three. There were times when she really struggled with the ball in her hands, losing control of it a couple of times and putting up a couple of bad shots. The more minutes she got, the more confident she become, creating offense for her teammates, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Scheer appears to be still trying to figure out what she's capable of and how that fits into the team framework. She is capable of becoming a real weapon on offense this year, but like the other young players will need extensive minutes to figure that out.

Rogers: Alexis bided her time nicely in this game, feeling out the opponent and figuring out what her teammates were doing before she asserted herself. She showed off her range with a three on a pass from Scheer, her defensive instincts with 3 steals and her speed with a layup after a steal. Rogers is not a player who does anything exceptionally well but instead simply makes plays. Fans need to understand that she's transitioning from high school post to college wing and so is trying to figure out how her skills translate. Despite that adjustment period, she's already managed to establish herself as a bit of a defensive specialist who loves to run the floor. When KJ comes back from injury, Rogers' minutes may become more limited against good opponents, but I see her as the sort of player who could make an impact in just a couple minutes' time.

Selby: Shea dressed out but did not play. She just started practice a week or so ago.

Jackson: KJ did not dress out. There's no timetable on her return as of yet.

Our coverage of the exhibition season will continue with a photo gallery of Duke's Sunday contest vs. Alaska-Anchorage. 2009-10 DWHoops Memberships information is available here.

2009 Blue-White Scrimmage
Devils Stifle the Seawolves, 100-32

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