Seniors and Shay Trump Temple, 71-64
Player by Player
Previewing Kentucky at Duke
Editor's Note: Our DWHoops 2010 Year in Review covers the entire 2009-10 season and the portion of the current 2010-11 season that fell in the 2010 calendar year.
For the Duke women's basketball team, the 2009-2010 season saw them break through some barriers while finding they couldn't bust through others. It was the first season that coach Joanne P. McCallie could call an unqualified success in her career at Duke, given the relative disappointments of her first two years. Indeed, Duke finished out of first place in both seasons, only got as far as the Sweet Sixteen (and just once, at that), and lost twice in the ACC finals. For many programs (indeed, even for her old Michigan State program), those would be perfectly fine season outcomes. For Duke, a team that had had so much success under Gail Goestenkors, it was considered to be somewhat less than ideal--especially since McCallie had been ushered into the job with PR fanfare indicating that she'd finish the job that Gail couldn't: winning the national title.
That set of expectations was probably unfair for a coach unaccustomed to this level of scrutiny and pressure to win. Indeed, like Goestenkors, McCallie was more of a program-builder, creating national powers at Maine and Michigan State. Taking over for a legend proved to be a difficult task, especially since her style of play proved to be a poor fit for the personnel she inherited. McCallie also struggled in terms of recruiting her first couple of seasons. Prior to this season's crop of outstanding freshmen, two of the five players she recruited have transferred and only Allison Vernerey has made any impact at all.
Duke was picked to finish third in the league a season after losing Chante Black, Abby Waner and Carrem Gay to graduation. With the ACC in a serious state of flux, I thought that Duke had a great opportunity to blast through those slightly lowered expectations, thanks mostly to the junior class of Krystal Thomas, Jasmine Thomas & Karima Christmas. Jasmine in particular would establish herself as a star in 2010, becoming a frequently unstoppable scorer and the one Duke player who could generate her own shot or get to the basket whenever she wanted.
The year began with a road trip to Texas that did not go as planned. After smashing overmatched Houston Baptist, Duke was blown out by Texas A&M by 18 points. The problem in this game was Duke's defense (which gave up a season-high 95 points) not adjusting to A&M's ball movement. A close game in the second half was busted open thanks to back-to-back-to-back threes by the Aggies. If nothing else, this road loss shocked Duke back to reality that they had a lot of work to do.
After lethargic home wins against Georgia Southern and Charlotte, Duke went to Cancun for a tournament that would wind up providing a blueprint for the rest of the season. The Devils held solid Western Kentucky and Marquette clubs under 50 points apiece as Jasmine Thomas provided a pair of magnificent performances. She dropped 20 points on the Hilltoppers and had just the third triple-double in Duke history against Marquette with 11 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. The frontcourt combined for 43 points and 15 rebounds as Duke was able to pound the Eagles inside.
Jasmine continued to step up by scoring a career-high 29 points against #3 Ohio State in the ACC-Big Ten challenge. Frosh Allison Vernerey held her own against OSU's All-American Jantel Lavender with 13 points and 8 rebounds, and Duke's defense frustrated the Buckeyes throughout the game. Duke then had to escape at home against USC, a team that took Duke to overtime the previous season. The Devils were down by 14 at point point to the sharpshooting Women of Troy before they got some stops and J.Thomas again lit up the scoreboard, this time for 28 points. Vernerey and Karima Christmas played key roles down the stretch.
The Devils followed that win with a 16 point road loss to #2 Stanford, a game that turned thanks to a big Stanford run in the second half. Christmas played well against Stanford's huge front line, but the Cardinal countered Duke's attempts to grab offensive rebounds with easy transition scores. Duke then offset a 31-point outburst from James Madison star Dawn Evans with 21 points from Joy Cheek, who had it all working against a smaller frontline. Krystal Thomas' post defense was so strong that JMU was forced to become a one-dimensional team on offense.
Following easy blowout wins against Maine and NC Central, Duke faced two more non-conference threats before the ACC season began. Playing Temple in Philadelphia, the Devils struggled against the Owls' physical style and shifting defenses, but Karima Christmas had her best game of the year with 23 points and 14 rebounds as Duke won by 8. After being benched thanks to a lackluster performance against Temple, Krystal Thomas responded with 21 points and 10 rebounds against Providence. Her performance was especially impressive because the Friars were scoring at will on a smaller Duke lineup. Once she came into the game, Providence couldn't handle her.
Duke's defense then dismantled a hapless Clemson team that could only manage 41 points. Cheek had another solid outing with 15 points as Duke won again with its small frontcourt lineup of Cheek, Mitchell and Christmas. Mitchell was the star in a home win against Wake Forest with 20 points and 9 rebounds, including several key long-range shots. The Devils went to Miami and eked out a win after falling behind in the first half, thanks to 15 & 12 from Krystal Thomas. Duke's defense and rebounding saved the day even as the Devils couldn't hit anything from the floor.
The Devils then hosted #1 and undefeated UConn and managed to stay within 10 points at the half. UConn's relentless long-range shooting and strengths at all five positions were simply too much for Duke to deal with. The only player who was effective at all was Jasmine Thomas, and even she was only 8-21 from the field. Duke wasn't the first team that was blown out by the defending and future national champs and they certainly weren't the last, and so they simply had to dust themselves off. Virginia Tech was a made-to-order opponent for Duke to improve against, and they dominated the Hokies for 40 minutes on defense and broke out of a scoring slump in the second half to score an easy win. Krystal Thomas was back in the starting lineup and scored 17 points, aggressively looking for her shot.
Duke went to 5-0 in the ACC with a win at Maryland, Duke's first in the Comcast Center since 2007. After squandering a double-digit second-half lead, Mitchell improbably hit the go-ahead shot with two minutes left (and the shot clock about to expire) to put Duke up for good. Cheek and J.Thomas hit some clutch free throws down the stretch to secure an ugly win. A showdown with Florida State in Cameron loomed as both teams were undefeated in league play, and the 'noles had beaten Duke in Tallahassee in 2009. The showdown proved to be no contest as Duke ran out to a 20-2 lead and blew FSU out of the building. Jasmine was splendid once again with 23 points, but it was the team's balance and rebounding (+21) that won the day.
Duke blew a chance to really take command in the ACC when they lost to Boston College in Chestnut Hill. A slow start on offense was compounded by poor rebounding and an inability to keep the Eagles away from the foul line. Despite it all, Duke still had a chance to win in the last couple of minutes, but miscues and missed free throws doomed the team. That loss got the team's attention, however, and UNC felt the brunt of Duke's renewed focus. Duke's rebounding and defense were spectacular as the team weathered early foul trouble from Jasmine Thomas with great all-around play by Keturah Jackson and timely long-shooting from Shay Selby.
Duke won that game because of how physical they were, and that carried over in their 30-point dismantling of NC State in Cameron. The Wolfpack Women were held to just 12 field goals as Vernerey started and contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds. That focus was hard to maintain in the dog days of the ACC season as Duke blew a 13-point lead to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, but rallied behind Jasmine & Karima to pull away down the stretch. Duke was now 9-1 and ready to take on Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The Jackets mimicked Duke's style of play in terms of pace and bruising physicality but lacked the weapons to hang with Duke for forty minutes. Jackson locked up Tech star Alex Montgomery while Krystal Thomas scored all 10 of her points in the game's last ten minutes. Duke simply wore the Jackets down until they crumbled in the game's final minutes. Jasmine Thomas posted another brilliant game with 20 points, key assists and game-changing steals. Duke had to return to Cameron and play just 40 hours after their tussle in Atlanta against a Maryland team always hungry to play its arch-rival. Duke took an early lead but Maryland rallied in the second half with some timely shooting. Christmas led Duke with 25 points while Cheek had 17 as Duke once again used its mental toughness to close out a game opponent.
The Devils clinched the ACC regular season title with a win on Senior Day against Virginia and their star player Monica Wright. Duke broke open a tight game thanks to relentless effort on the boards and dominant showings from Vernerey and J.Thomas. The duo combined for 38 points, scoring 27 of them after the half. The Devils lost a chance to win the ACC outright in an ugly performance against UNC in Chapel Hill. Duke forced 30 turnovers and dominated the boards but couldn't shoot over UNC's zone and had shots swatted away in the post. Still, Duke had already clinched the top seed in the ACC tournament for the first time since 2007.
Duke was "rewarded" for this top seed by having to play Maryland in the first round. The Devils survived a hungry and focused Terp squad that took an early 11-point lead. Duke took a lead at the half and kept Maryland at arm's length, but was never quite able to put them away. Cheek once again had a big game with 14 points, but it was J.Thomas' 21 points (including 5 treys) that carried the day for Duke. The Devils faced their bruising friends from Georgia Tech in the semifinals, once again outlasting them down the stretch. Duke used an 8-0 run to go up by double-digits in the game's last four minutes as Christmas led the way with 15 points.
For the third straight year, Duke was in the ACC tourney finals. This time, they took home the trophy as they pounded an inspired NC State club (playing its fourth game in four days). Tournament MVP Jasmine Thomas scored 18 points as Duke took a big lead early and fended off State's many attempts at a comeback. Duke kept State frosh star Marissa Kastanek in check while every Devil who played manage to score and contribute. This was the first tournament title for Duke since 2004 and was especially sweet for the senior class, who had come so close on so many occasions.
The Devils were rewarded with a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament, with the added bonus of hosting the first two rounds. The Devils had no problem with MEAC champion Hampton, beating them by 35 points as Duke spread the scoring around. Hampton was simply no match for Duke's size and speed. Playing a dangerous LSU team in the second round, Duke looked tight at times but made key adjustments to slow down their star wing Allison Hightower. Mitchell made a number of key shots and finished with 12 points as Duke headed back to the Sweet Sixteen after an embarrassing a loss a year before to Michigan State.
The Devils then traveled to Memphis to play 11 seed San Diego State. Using a big outburst to start the second half, the Devils blew out to a big lead and cruised the rest of the way. Jasmine matched her career high with 29 points and Duke forced 23 steals. That set up a regional final matchup against another upstart in Baylor, who upset #1 seed Tennessee in Memphis. In an offensively hideous game, Duke blew an 8 point lead with five minutes left, thanks to poor decision-making, a lack of mental toughness and no one being able to handle hulking Baylor center Britney Griner after Krystal Thomas fouled out with 2:17 left.
Duke was presented with a situation where they couldn't turn defense into offense and couldn't make shots when it counted. The defense was still excellent, but a lack of creativity on offense against a team with Baylor's size and quickness painfully exposed Duke's flaws against elite opponents. Duke had certainly established itself as a defensive powerhouse and feared defensive squad, but will look to retool itself as an offensive power as well. The loss to Baylor was disappointing, but Duke still had a great season and sent its seniors out with a bang. I'm guessing that it was the team's success (earning a 30-win season) and her radically improved recruiting that earned coach McCallie a 5-year extension. That extension was all about recruiting, letting recruits know that McCallie will be here for the long haul and stemming potential negative recruiting against Duke. The Devils are certainly in position to challenge for ACC and national honors over the next several seasons.
Closing out calendar year 2010 with the start of the 2010-11 campaign, Duke made a perfect 13-0 start. November and December were spent learning on the run as the team tried to integrate its freshman class into the mix amidst assorted injuries. Allison Vernerey and Kathleen Scheer were both coming off of surgeries and the former also had to deal with the repercussions of a blow to the head. Shay Selby missed two games with an injury, while prize frosh Chelsea Gray was brought along slowly thanks to a stress reaction in her foot. Duke's early schedule was anything but a gimme for a top and bottom heavy team in terms of experience; collegerpi.com had Duke as the #1 team in the RPI and #2 in terms of strength of schedule.
Those high rankings were thanks to a thorough beating of RPI #17 Southern Cal, and close wins against #28 Charlotte, #3 Texas A&M and #9 Xavier. Duke once again was a dominant defensive club, only giving up as many as 60 points just once (vs Auburn) and holding three foes to under 50 points. The offense was very much a work in progress, frequently regressing to tractor-ball against teams who could match Duke's size and quickness. The seniors pulled a number of those games out, but a welcome development was the way Gray proved herself to be a closer, getting any number of key shots, assists and free throws in the last two minutes of several close games. That was especially the case on the road. A four game road trip saw the team develop a killer instinct against several pretty tough foes down the stretch, even if Duke has been a bit flat to start some games. The development to watch as 2011 dawns is to see if the frosh continue to be integrated into the rotation and if they can correct their flaws to date. If so, especially with UConn proved to be mortal, the sky could be the limit for this team.
Seniors and Shay Trump Temple, 71-64
Player by Player
Previewing Kentucky at Duke