It has been a busy week for the Duke Blue Devils women’s basketball team.
The team held its annual Blue-White Scrimmage game on Sunday and continued prepping local fans and media for the upcoming season when it held its Media/Photo Day on Tuesday.
After an Elite 8 finish in last year’s NCAA Championship tournament, Duke has been tabbed No. 6 in the Sporting News and No. 8 in the Athlon Sports preseason rankings.
Coach Joanne P. McCallie describes this year’s team as ‘incredible’ when considering their talent and involvement both on and off the court.
Blue-White highlights youth and speed
During the team’s Blue-White Scrimmage, sophomore Tricia Liston scored 24 points on 4-for-9 shooting from three-point range to lead all players while fellow sophomore Chelsea Gray shined defensively, posting a game-high five steals to go with six points and 10 assists.
After the game, McCallie described the process she will follow in developing a younger team that has emerged following the graduation of seniors Karima Christmas, Jasmine Thomas, and Krystal Thomas.
“That’s life. You can’t have them for more than four years,” McCallie pointed out. “You don’t hang on to anything in the sense of personnel. You’ve gotta’ let them go.”
When describing her squad’s capabilities coming into this season, she highlighted the opportunity to be a quicker team.
“Every team is different, every team evolves differently,“ McCallie said. “This team can be a very fast team down the floor. I think you’ve seen part of that evolution in the Blue-White.”
Follow the leader
With only two seniors on the team, Shay Selby and Kathleen Scheer, sophomore guard Chelsea Gray has also been tasked to take on the leadership responsibilities of a talented young group that seeks to build on its success from last season.
“This year I am just working on my leadership skills in trying to lead as a point guard and just as a person,” Gray said.
Along with Gray, fellow sophomore guard Liston was clear in describing the responsibility they both have in helping their team to be successful.
“I feel like with those three leaving, we have had to pick up our role on the team; on the court, off the court,” Liston stated. “We’re not freshman anymore, and just we need to show the (new) freshmen on how it’s supposed to be.”
Defense is constant
When asked about the adjustments she will make in her team’s system of play, McCallie clearly pointed out her philosophy in achieving success on the court by maintaining a ‘bedrock’ of defense.
“Your defensive system remains very consistent,” McCallie pointed out. “We’re a multiple defensive team. We’re going to play a lot of different defenses,” she concluded in emphasizing how she has never strayed from that philosophy throughout her coaching career.
Gray echoed her coach’s comments and illustrated her understanding of the team’s defensive structuring under McCallie’s direction.
“Coach P will always stress defense. That won’t change from year to year whoever is on the team. That is always going to be consistent.”
Offensive options and development
Regarding the offensive strategy the team will utilize this season, the two-time ACC Championship coach alluded to the point of allowing the offense to develop according to the skills of the personnel she puts out on the court.
Both Gray and Liston followed up on their coach’s outlook regarding the team’s offensive set-up and style of play.
“As far as offense, we have different types of weapons,” Gray continued. ”We lose three, we gain three. They pose something different than the three who left,” she continued.
Liston added to Gray’s comments.
“We come at it from every angle on offense,” Liston said. “Everybody on our team is capable of going out and scoring however much per game. There are so many different people who can do different things that it’s going to be hard for a defense to try to stop one thing because we’re always going to be able to do something else to create our scores.”
Building upon last season
Both players appreciate the team’s run into the NCAA tournament last season and will use that experience to grow and lead their team.
“We were in the tournament, we made it to the Elite 8,” Gray said. “I feel like we know what to expect and what has to go on in order to pursue the championships, from the ACC to the Tournament.”
When asked the question about facing an opponent like the University of Connecticut Huskies, the Elite 8 opponent who they ended their season against with a lopsided 75-40 loss, both players were consistent in pointing out that they do not pay attention to the color of their opponents’ jerseys.
“We just try to play our game,” Gray said. “We don’t treat any team differently,” she continued.
With that said, the Blue Devils will have the chance to redeem themselves against the Huskies when they make the trip to Durham in late January.
Before then, the new-look Blue Devils will begin their evolution and journey in 2011-2012 when they open the season against their first opponent, Pfeiffer University, in an exhibition game on November 3 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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