Duke Cruises Past VaTech, 57-43
Duke Whips Georgia Tech, 69-32
Georgia Tech -- Friday, January 21st, 6:30 PM, Cameron Indoor Stadium. TV: Regional Sports Networks
2010 Snapshot: 23-10, 8-6 ACC, NCAA First Round
Last Meeting: 2/14/10: Balanced Devils Outlast Jackets, 67-55
Current Records: Duke 17-0 (3-0 ACC), GT 16-4 (4-0 ACC)
Current Rankings: Duke #3, Georgia Tech unranked
Significant Losses: The Jackets lost only two players to graduation, including their most important player: forward Brigitte Ardossi. The Aussie made quite a leap last season from role player to star, averaging 16 ppg, 7 rpg and 2 spg. She attempted a free throw every five minutes, a testament to how physical she became for the Jackets. Also leaving is senior center Tiffany Blackmon, a career role player who played in just five games last year
Who's Coming Back: The Jackets will be led by 2010 ACC 6th woman of the year Alex Montgomery, a do-it-all wing who spent much of the year rehabbing from an ACL tear. She averaged 12 ppg, 6 rpg and shot 32% from three. Playing point will be fellow senior Deja Foster, who put up 10 ppg, 6 rpg and 3 spg. Massive junior center Sasha Goodlett will be expected to become more consistent in the low post after posting solid averages of 10 ppg & 5 rpg. Beyond that dependable trio, Tech has many question marks. Junior wing Mo Bennett was inconsistent as a scorer but did manage to average 6 ppg and 5 rpg. Junior guard Metra Walthour averaged 4 ppg and 3 apg to help shore up Tech's ballhandling. Junior posts LaQuananisha Adams (2 ppg, 1 rpg) & Chelsea Regins (4 ppg, 3 rpg) showed flashes of potential and physicality but will be called on for more. Among the sophomores, guard Sharena Taylor shows the most promise, scoring 3 ppg and grabbing 2 rpg. Forward Jasmine Blain (2 ppg, 1 rpg) and Shayla Bivins (just 9 appearances) will need to work hard to break into the rotation.
The Skinny: This is a pretty significant early season showdown, given that Tech already has a win over UNC and won't be playing Duke again in the regular season. The winner will have a serious leg up in the conference race. Duke has been one of the teams standing in the way of Georgia Tech moving up in the league for a long time. Even last year, Tech was 6-4 in the league and had a chance to move up, but Duke made all the plays down the stretch in that game and in their ACC tournament matchup. The Jackets haven't beaten Duke since 1994 and it's obvious that a win in Durham would mean a lot to MaChelle Joseph and her program.
Tech is every bit as physical as Duke, loves to rebound (+9 on the year) and likes to go to the foul line. They depend on defense first and rely on the one-on-one talents of their star guard. Sound familiar? Indeed, Duke and Georgia Tech mirror many of the others' strengths and weaknesses alike. Like Duke, Georgia Tech played a tough preseason schedule, going up against the likes of Georgetown, UConn and Tennessee--all in a row, in fact. Of course, the Jackets lost all three of those games, but they will certainly have no fear of Duke or anyone else after playing that murderer's row. To its credit, Tech disposed of arch-rival Georgia (a very solid, ranked club) by double digits and beat a tough Northwestern team. In the ACC, they made a furious rally in the final minute to come from 7 points down against UNC. GT also took care of business at home against Virginia (a feisty if underpowered squad) and on the road against bottom-feeding Clemson & Wake Forest.
What's going to make the difference in this game? I'm guessing how each coach is able to use her bench. There's no question that Duke has a deeper and more talented bench than GT. On the other hand, Tech is used to giving its starters a lot of minutes while finding ways to get its bench to contribute in limited minutes. Tech's starting lineup is interesting, because it's essentially four guards and center Goodlett. Goodlett is averaging 9 ppg and 5 rpg--solid numbers but certainly not at the level of other posts Duke has faced this year. For fitness and matchup reasons, Goodlett only averages 25 minutes a game. I expect her to play more against Duke if she's not in foul trouble (always a concern), but this is a situation where Joseph isn't afraid to bring in the very physical Regins (6 ppg, 3 rpg) or developing redshirt frosh Danielle Hamilton-Carter (1 ppg, 2 rpg). The latter is a player who can go inside and out but who needs reps. Joseph might also bring in Adams (3 ppg, 2 rpg) for a few possessions. The bottom line is that Joseph has plenty of bodies and fouls to throw against Duke if it becomes that kind of party.
The starting forwards, Montgomery and Foster, have both spent time at point guard during their careers at Tech. Montgomery is fully healed from a torn ACL and is averaging 14.5 ppg, 8.5 4pg, 2.5 apg, 2 spg and 40% from three. She's a shoo-in to make first-team All-ACC, given her all-around talents and leadership. Foster missed the first seven games of the year with an injury, but Tech has really been humming since her return; she's currently averaging 6 ppg, 6 rpg and 3 apg. In the backcourt, Walthour filled in ably at point and is putting up 8 ppg, 2 rpg, 4 apg and 34% 3FG. The difference-maker for Tech so far this year has been frosh Tyaunna Marshall, a whirling dervish who has made a fast team even faster. She's contributing 14.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 apg and 2 spg.
While Montgomery and Foster are only about 6-foot (and the guards are tiny), everyone on this team rebounds. Rebounding is obviously Duke's first priority in this game and the goal should be keeping Tech under their average of 15 a game. While Tech favors a variation of the matchup zone, the Devils will need to find angles of attack against it and get their post players touches. Given Duke's erratic shooting, they don't want to be in a position where they have to depend on threes in order to win. Krystal Thomas absolutely needs to shut down Goodlett and force Tech to find other ways to score. Duke's other seniors also have important assignments. Karima Christmas needs to glue herself to Montgomery and force her to take contested jumpers while keeping her off the boards. Jasmine Thomas needs to simply stay in front of Marshall, because Marshall is not a long-range shooter.
Duke has to be careful about certain of Tech's bench players. Frosh Frida Fogdemark is a shooting specialist who has hit crucial shots against UNC and Wake in very limited time. When Duke sees her on the floor, a defender needs to shadow her at all times. Montgomery and Walthour are Tech's only reliable shooters and Duke might even consider a variation of the triangle-and-two where players like Foster and Marshall get open shots from three but Montgomery & Walthour get blanketed.
This will be a big game for Duke frosh Chelsea Gray & Tricia Liston. Both could be key in getting Tech's sticky zone to collapse and move if they move the ball around the way they have been of late. Liston has done an especially good job of feeding the post, and if she comes in with Allison Vernerey, this could be a good sign for Duke's post scoring. Gray needs to be locked in at both ends: making plays, hitting open shots and using her length to frustrate Tech's guards defensively.
In the end, it will come down to Jasmine Thomas, as it always does. If she can make scoring and defensive plays down the stretch as she has, Duke will win. If she's supported by a big performance by Christmas & K.Thomas, or double-digit showings from any of the frosh, Duke will win easily. If Jasmine struggles and Duke isn't focused on defense, then it could be a long day for an opponent that is highly motivated and ready to prove that they belong in the ACC's upper echelon.
Duke Cruises Past VaTech, 57-43
Duke Whips Georgia Tech, 69-32