No. 2 Duke women set for No. 1 UConn challenge

CorrespondentDecember 16, 2013 

Purdue Duke Basketball

Duke’s seventh-year head coach Joanne P. McCallie watches from the sideline during the Blue Devils’ 99-78 win over Purdue on Dec. 5.


— – It’s a game Duke fans have had circled ever since the schedule came out.

There aren’t many better regular-season games than matching the unbeaten, reigning NCAA women’s champions – still the No. 1 team in the nation – against the undefeated No. 2 in a sold-out arena on national TV.

It’s the first time No. 2 has hosted No. 1 since UConn’s 88-58 rout of No. 2 North Carolina in 2009. Duke has had a similar scenario to Tuesday night’s game just once, rolling over No. 1 Tennessee 75-53 in 2006.

Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie said she wants her players to keep everything in perspective. After all, it is December.

Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ESPN2) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the No. 2 Blue Devils (10-0) will host No. 1 Connecticut (10-0) in the Jimmy V Classic.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said McCallie, the Blue Devils’ seventh-year coach. “But December is a little bit different from January and February and March and other times of the year. “From our standpoint there’s a whole season to play. The ‘one-two’ thing is already doing what it should do, drawing attention to the game. It’s very important that women’s basketball continue to grow and get more coverage. …

“That’s a good thing and that’s the story on the media side. For us? This is one game and we’ve got a lot of games to play. … The next step in the process is winning a national championship. That’s what we’d like to do.”

Geno Auriemma’s Huskies have won eight NCAA championships, including seven of the past 14. Duke, meanwhile, has stayed near the top of the game, playing in four Final Fours and appearing in the title game twice between 1999 and 2006. But the Blue Devils have not been to a Final Four in McCallie’s tenure and have come up short in four straight regional title games.

Connecticut, which leads the series 9-3, has been a particular tormentor of late. Auriemma’s team has won six straight games in the series and five times in the past four seasons, including twice at Cameron Indoor Stadium – the only losses in Duke’s past 83 home games. Duke’s best effort since 2006 was a 61-45 loss in January 2012.

It’s the last chance for Duke’s five-player senior class – which was listed as the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class when Chelsea Gray, Tricia Liston, Haley Peters, Chloe Wells and Richa Jackson came in together – to get an upset on its home court.

Both teams have five players scoring in double figures. Liston (18.3, 6.6 rebounds) leads the Blue Devils.

Sophomore 6-foot-4 center Breanna Stewart (17.8, 7.1 rebounds) leads Connecticut.

Gray, whose knee injury last Feb. 14 dealt a serious blow to the Blue Devils’ chances for winning the NCAA title, said a good mental approach is key for Duke.

“We have to focus on what we do,” Gray said. “Offensively, it’s executing the game plan. We have to rebound and we have to get our stops. I think sometimes (against UConn) we haven’t gotten a stop and it just bleeds from there, and they go on runs. We’ve got to not rush things and stay in what we do.”

Peters, called the team’s “bulldog” by classmate Gray, said she’s expecting a pretty physical game despite offseason changes in rules and points of emphasis designed to enhance offense.

“We want to be good tomorrow, of course, but to be good in March and April is what really matters,” Peters said.

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