Duke women looking for 40 consistent minutes to advance in NCAA tournament

CorrespondentMarch 23, 2012 

NCAA Duke Basketball

Duke coach Joanne McCallie talks with her team during practice, Friday, March 23, 2012, in Fresno, Calif. Duke plays St. John's in a NCAA women's tournament regional semifinal basketball game on Saturday.

RICH PEDRONCELLI — Rich Pedroncelli - AP

  • NCAA women’s basketball tournament

    Sweet 16 matchup: No. 2 Duke (26-5) vs. No. 3 St. John’s (24-9)

    When: 9:04 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Save Mart Center, Fresno, Calif.

    TV: ESPN

— Duke looked impressive on the road in the first two rounds of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Starting tonight, however, it gets tougher.

With just one full day on campus following a 96-80 win over host No. 7 Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, the No. 2 seed Blue Devils are in Fresno, Calif. to take on third-seeded St. John’s Saturday night (9:04 p.m., ESPN) in the tournament’s regional semifinals.

And the Red Storm (24-9) boast a win on its resume the Blue Devils (26-5) lack: St. John’s beat visiting Connecticut 57-56 on Feb. 18, the same Huskies who defeated Duke 61-45 in Durham on Jan. 30. (UConn later got its revenge on St. John’s with a 74-43 romp in the Big East Tournament.)

The de facto home team and No. 1 seed Stanford (33-1) will take on No. 5 seed South Carolina (25-9) in the other regional semifinal. But Duke will have a few extra fans there, since sophomore floor general Chelsea Gray is from Stockton, Calif., about 125 miles away.

“St. John’s is a very athletic team, a good, strong team,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Everybody can penetrate from all spots. They like transition, they love to press, they’re a very good rebounding team. It will take a good team defensive effort, no doubt.

“They’ve got such a competitor in (Shenneika Smith) - she’s special.”

A 6-foot-1 sophomore, Smith averages 12.2 points and 6.5 rebounds.

McCallie said the Blue Devils, who have advanced all but one Sweet 16 since 1998, have to correct some defensive problems from the Vanderbilt game.

“We have to figure out how we gave up 48 points in (the second) half. That was a pretty crushing blow there,” she said. “But it was great to learn from that to get us ready for next. We’ve had some great moments (in the tournament.) We just haven’t strung together 40 minutes.”

Gray said she’s definitely looking forward to seeing familiar faces from home.

“I’ll probably have 40-to-50 family and friends there,” she said. “We prepared to be on the road during ACC play and our pre-conference schedule, so we’re kind of used to a hostile environment. But I’m excited to be playing in front of a lot of family members and close friends.”

Gray had 12 points and 12 assists in the win at Vanderbilt. Five Blue Devils scored in double figures on a 65.6 percent shooting night.

Duke has dressed just nine players over the last month following Richa Jackson’s torn ACL, the loss of Amber Henson to a knee operation in December and Chloe Wells’ departure for this semester following a violation of the school’s athletic policy.

Center Elizabeth Williams, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, has been pressing on in the tournament despite a stress fracture in her right leg.

“It feels great right now so I’m excited to play,” Williams said. “It’s bone and not muscle. It hasn’t been feeling that bad, actually.

“In the tournament, being the aggressor is important because people are fighting for their lives. So coming in with a stronger mentality and being focused on our team and what we want to do has helped us pretty well.”

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