Most teams would just scrimmage themselves, but the AP preseason #3 Duke Blue Devils decided to measure up against their all-male scout squad during the team’s annual Blue-White scrimmage game played at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. on Sunday.
Junior guards Tricia Liston (18 points, 6 rebs) and Chelsea Gray (17 pts, 6 rebs) led all players in scoring while forward Haley Peters added 13 points in a final-minute 70-69 loss in front of 1,162 spectators in attendance.
While head coach Joanne P. McCallie sat across the court to evaluate the team’s play, assistant coach Joy Cheek directed the Blue Devils bench during four 10-minute quarters of play against the team’s scout squad which was overseen by assistant coach Candice Jackson.
Value of match-up
“This was a great scrimmage for us – it really brought together a lot of things – much like an ACC game or higher level for that matter,” McCallie said afterwards.
The purpose of playing the practice team was to prepare the Blue Devils for their upcoming exhibition games and providing useful video segments to be able to draw from.
Playing against a men’s squad that possessed height and talent, a lean Duke squad was pushed to its limit.
After shooting 50 percent from the field during the first half and leading 44-38, the Blue Devils ran into scoring trouble.
“Second half, offensively we weren’t very good in terms of breaking their zone and getting second shots,” McCallie said.
“We took a lot of quick shots that we didn’t execute well.”
Heavy load to carry
Even with the talent that this team possesses with four productive returning starters, the Blue Devils are challenged with starting the season still recovering from injuries carried over from last season.
“Gosh, we have half the team out,” McCallie said.
Sophomore All-America center Elizabeth Williams, last season’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defensive Player of the Year, played limited minutes as she is still recovering from a lower leg stress fracture.
Forwards Richa Jackson and Amber Henson were dressed in uniform but did not play as their recovery from knee injuries continues, while guard Chloe Wells and freshman forward Katie Heckman, also recovering from injuries, both watched in street clothes.
“You take the positive out of it as much as you can,” McCallie said in describing the team’s personnel situation.
“We’re working with a small group right now and to get this core really established, and add people back in. There are no deadlines – it’s day-to-day with all of them. It’s just a matter of being patient. I like our group very much.”
Need to get aggressive
According to McCallie, the small group that will lead the team into the season must develop better off-ball habits and timing.
In particular, defending outside shooting will become a specific focus early on as the team seems to lack urgency in such situations.
“It’s really bothersome,” McCallie stated.
“It’s a lack of aggression. You need to yell, you need to get in people’s faces. You need to be in attack mode.”
That is the tone that McCallie is setting with her starters.
“That’s a difference-maker. If you’re going to play at the margins and beat the very best teams in the country, you’re gonna’ come up with those plays.”
Looking for a sheriff
When asked if the team possesses a ‘bad cop’ or someone who can really press teammates to step-up their play, McCallie replied with a smile while looking at Gray sitting beside her, “I’m not sure we do right now – I’m pretty sure I know who it should be,” she said.
How will the junior All-America guard step up not only her game, but further establish her leadership skills in getting her teammates to play with the edge that their coach what’s them to develop?
“Getting used to knowing your teammates – knowing how to direct them – encourage them at the same time,” Gray said.
Up and comers
In addition to carrying the load on and off the court, Gray will be a key figure in helping Duke’s two key freshmen, Alexis Jones and Sierra Moore, get used to playing against Top 25 and ACC competition.
Both made their debuts in Cameron Sunday, displaying what they will bring to the 2012-13 edition of the team.
Jones scored six points on 3-for-6 shooting from the floor and pulled down three boards, including two on the defensive end, while Moore added two rebounds and was also impressive defensively, grabbing two steals.
In talking about the performance of Jones and Moore, McCallie stated, “I think they looked okay. We need to do a better job of getting them more okay because we’re going to need both of them to help us.”
In losing a close decision to the scout team, Gray highlighted the advantage of playing such a group as the season starts.
“They’re stronger, faster, taller, so it gives us a different look to get ready for the season,” Gray said.
“They know some of our plays and some of our secrets.”
McCallie expanded upon the point of setting up such an opponent compared to another team.
“A lot of coaches set up ‘Mickey Mouse’ games and win by 40 and everybody gets excited,” McCallie said.
“We set up a real NCAA game. We’re not worried about outcomes (right now), we have got to get better to play at the highest level. This will be our hardest exhibition game, I believe.”
Gray concurred, and she and her teammates are ready to begin play against other opponents.
The Blue Devils now prepare for two upcoming exhibition games this week – hosting the Shaw Bears on Tuesday and the Queens (Charlotte) Royals on Sunday.
“I’m excited to play someone different,” Gray said.
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