Devils In Detail - January 2011
UConn Crushes Duke, 87-51
UConn -- Monday, January 31st, 7:00 PM, Gampel Pavillion, ESPN2
2010 Snapshot: 39-0, 16-0 Big East, National Champions
Last Meeting: 1/18/10: #1 Huskies Beat Down Duke, 81-48
Current Records: Duke 20-0 (6-0 ACC), UConn 20-1 (9-0, Big East)
Current Rankings: Duke #3, UConn #2
Significant Losses: The Huskies lost the player who earned my Wooden Award vote last year, center Tina Charles. The future WNBA rookie of the year scored 18 ppg and grabbed 9.5 rpg. She shot 62% from the floor and blocked 2 shots a game. Her strength, aggressiveness and toughness made her the perfect complement to Maya Moore. Also gone is wing Kalana Greene, who put up 11 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.5 apg and 46% from three. She was the third scoring option who was more than happy to step up when Moore and Charles were being blanketed. Starting point guard Caroline Doty went down with a knee injury before the season, which has hurt the team a bit this year. She put up 7 ppg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 rpg, 32% from three and added an endless amount of attitude. Charles' backup, Kaili McLaren, also graduated after averaging 3 ppg and 2 rpg and wing Meghan Gardler is gone after scoring 4 ppg and grabbing 3 rpg.
Who's Coming Back: To paraphrase UConn coach Geno Auriemma, he has Maya Moore and you don't. The two-time national player of the year averaged 19 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1 bpg, 2 spg, 42% from three and 80% from the foul line. She's a one-woman wrecking crew, capable of beating you off the dribble or with her feathery jump shot. Throw in an unrelenting competitive nature and steely mental toughness, and you have the best player in the country. Also back is wing Tiffany Hayes, a player who'd be the leading scorer at virtually any other program but has been a career role player here. That said, she did average an impressive 10 ppg, 3 rpg, 3 apg, 1 spg and 32% from three. Off the bench return speedy point guard Lorin Dixon (3 ppg, 2 rpg), wing Kelly Faris (4 ppg, 4 rpg) and post Heather Buck (2 ppg, 2 rpg).
The Skinny: Duke is undefeated and has played the toughest schedule in the country. The one knock on the Blue Devils is that they haven't played a top ten team on the road as of yet. That will change when they travel to Storrs and face UConn. The Huskies have made mincemeat of the Devils the past three years, including last year's matchup in Cameron. Duke was within 10 points at the half and scored the first basket of the second half before a barrage of threes and turnovers quickly buried the Devils. UConn's 90 game winning streak finally came to an end, but that doesn't mean UConn is any less lethal.
They are, however, not invincible anymore. Last year, there was no way to beat them because they had the two best players in the country, plus two deadly sidekicks, plus a sweet-shooting point guard, plus some solid depth. They balanced size, skill and shooting. They never beat themselves and welcomed all competition. This year, the Huskies are playing a rotation of six (they only have ten players since center Samarie Walker left the team). Stanford beat them thanks to concentrating on the boards (they were +5 in rebounding against a team that's normally +15), getting balanced scoring to go with one outstanding scoring performance and forcing Maya Moore to become a jump shooter. Stanford is also very difficult to beat at home, and they had a huge crowd urging them on. In other words, it took a rare bad game from Moore and great play from Stanford at home to win the game.
Duke will be playing UConn in their own little building, and their fans will be eager to see their team prove themselves against a top ten opponent without Walker. Of course, Duke has defeated the Huskies the last two times they've played in the state of Connecticut, including Jessica Foley's buzzer-beater in 2004 and the tight win in the regional finals in 2006. Even considering all that Duke's been through this season, UConn is still the ultimate test.
Duke has a few advantages. They have more size than the Huskies; other than 6-5 center Stefanie Dolson (8 ppg, 5 rpg) no player is taller than 5-11. Duke is much deeper than UConn; with Walker gone, all five starters average thirty minutes a game or more. UConn has proven they can win with ease against tough opponents despite this short rotation, but it leaves them with little room for error. They do know how to play great defense without fouling, though Dolson has fouled out twice this year. It's important that when Duke goes to its bench, the reserves have to make a scoring impact, not just buy time for the starters. Duke has to score at least 70 points if they want to beat UConn. Given how inconsistent Duke's offense has been, this puts the onus of execution squarely on Chelsea Gray's shoulders. We all know what Jasmine Thomas can do, but Duke can't win if it's strictly a one-woman show. Gray has to keep UConn off-balance with her own offense as well as keeping UConn's defense moving with penetration and whipcrack passes.
Duke needs to put up points, but the most important battle will be on the boards. If Duke has the advantage on the boards, they have a great chance of winning. That will mean keeping UConn away from the offensive boards as well as getting additional opportunities (the latter is especially important considering Duke's poor field goal percentage this year). UConn doesn't press much, but Duke will need to be cautious using its own press, because if it's not razor-sharp, then the Huskies will get lots of easy baskets.
UConn uses Dolson in interesting ways. Rather than a traditional back-to-the-basket scorer like Charles, Dolson often sets up shop in the middle post, forcing defenders to move up just a little. If they back off, she turns around for a soft jumper. If they stay up, she dishes to a cutter. Krystal Thomas needs to absolutely shut her down from beginning to end; getting her in foul trouble would be a bonus. If Krystal is not an active part of Duke's offense, the Devils will lose.
With regard to UConn's offense, Duke has to keep them off the foul line. Moore must be pushed out to three point line and forced to take contested jumpers. Karima Christmas will be assigned to her, and this will be her chance for a true breakout game. It is crucial that Duke concentrates on Moore's supporting cast. Hayes is putting up 16 ppg, 5 rpg and 3.5 apg this year, while Faris is averaging 8 ppg and 7 rpg. It will be up to Jasmine Thomas and the Haley Peters/Kathleen Scheer duo to stop those two players. UConn's frosh point guard sensation Bria Hartley stepped into the breach for her team and is averaging an impressive 14 ppg, 3 apg, 4 rpg and 43% from three. Hartley is a big-time player, and how Chelsea Gray deals with her will be a big key to the game. Gray is much taller than Hartley, but Hartley is quicker and a better shooter.
If Duke can get real contributions from its juniors and its younger players, they can win. If they don't, it will be another blowout loss. More than anything, Duke's players have to clad themselves in the armor of belief, because many a team has fallen to UConn that didn't believe in themselves. Inculcating that belief is a task for the seniors, all of whom are sick of being tossed around by the Huskies, but they have to psyche themselves up for the game. As long as Duke draws from the experiences that have given them confidence this year, they should have the energy to compete with UConn. Duke has to keep the game close in the first half; they Devils can't shoot poorly without grabbing offensive rebounds to stay in the game. If it comes down to the last couple of minutes, then Duke will likely win. If UConn blows out to an early lead, its unlikely Duke will be able to force them into enough mistakes to come back. Either way, Duke will know exactly where they stand after the game and what they need to do to compete for the national title.
Editor's Note: DWHoops will provide full coverage of this game including photos.
Devils In Detail - January 2011
UConn Crushes Duke, 87-51