Duke has been about the unluckiest team in women’s college basketball this season.
But heading into the ACC tournament Thursday, , the Blue Devils’ NCAA tournament chances are still alive.
Duke was supposed to be great this season, with the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class coming in to join sophomores Azura Stevens and Rebecca Greenwell.
However, the Blue Devils have had a run of injuries, including freshman Haley Gorecki suffering a season-ending injury when she injured her right hip Jan. 4.
Stevens, who’s 6-6 and remains a strong candidate for conference player of the year, didn’t play in the last seven games of the regular season because of a torn plantar fascia in her left foot.
And with all those nagging injuries the Blue Devils had only six players practicing late last week.
National bracket predictors are saying the No. 8 seed Blue Devils (19-11, 8-8 ACC) are going to need help and maybe some luck to qualify for the NCAA field.
But they can make their own luck this week.
“We refuse to be desperate. We’ve had food poisoning and femur fractures,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’ve had it all. But this team has figured out ways to keep pushing, and that’s what we have to do. We just have to be mentally prepared for the physical aspects of tournament games and the focus it takes. We have to play with urgency and create our tomorrow.”
The biggest key for Duke going deep in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments is the health of Stevens, a Cary High graduate who averages 19.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
The center said she felt 100 percent when she dressed for Duke’s 93-57 win over UNC on Feb. 28, although the staff decided otherwise.
“I was ready to go (for the UNC game), but my teammates did a good job getting the job done,” Stevens said. “And there’s no need to push it if I don’t need to.
“I think we’re on an upward trend. Everything is starting to click. We’re finding people in the right spots and starting to play more together. The Carolina game was a good statement win. It was really nice to see us play good Duke basketball.”
Greenwell, who averages 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds and is hitting 41.7 percent from outside the 3-point arc, has been watching practice for a few days because of some nagging injuries, but has never played fewer than 26 minutes.
“We just want to carry the feeling from the Carolina game into the ACC Tournament,” she said. “We were all really excited about that game, played really well together and fed off of each other. Everybody got a good taste of how good we can be. We just want to carry that on and have a good showing in Greensboro.
“We showed against Carolina we can get 25 assists when we’re moving and passing and cutting and getting to the open players. That’s when we play our best. Everyone was knocking down shots. We just have to keep going with what’s working.”
Duke gets a bye in Wednesday’s first round before playing No. 9 seed Virginia (16-14, 6-10) on Thursday at 2 p.m.
The Blue Devils won the teams’ regular-season meeting 67-52 on Feb. 4 in Durham.
No. 8 seed Duke vs. No. 9 Virginia
When: 2 p.m. Thursday