Jan 15, 2013
DURHAM, N.C. — There's only one undefeated basketball team left in Division I — and it's the Duke women.
The fourth-ranked Blue Devils (15-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) are off to another hot start, winning their first 15 games for the second time in three seasons.
They not only haven't lost, they haven't really been tested for a full 40 minutes: Duke hasn't had a game decided by fewer than 10 points and its average margin of victory is more than 30 points.
Still, the Blue Devils aren't getting caught up in their hot start.
"We're just kind of in our world, trying to get better, recognizing that there's a lot of great teams out there," coach Joanne P. McCallie said Tuesday. "It hasn't been anything that anyone's really thought about. To me, that kind of stuff is banquet material, end-of-year stuff, not during-year stuff."
Next up for the Blue Devils is Virginia Tech on Wednesday night, a game Duke is expected to win. And while they say they're not looking past the Hokies, looming on the horizon is a visit to No. 3 Connecticut next Monday.
The Huskies have spoiled a perfect start by Duke before. Two years ago, Duke was the last unbeaten women's team at 20-0 entering its visit to UConn and wound up losing by 36 points.
Nobody's forgotten about that embarrassment.
"It was one of the roughest film sessions we've had," said junior Chelsea Gray. "I never want to walk away from that feeling. I remember that feeling still to this day."
The setback against UConn aside, the Blue Devils have been feeling pretty good about themselves recently.
This is the fifth time they have started the season at least 15-0 since 2002-03. It's the second time McCallie has taken a perfect start this deep into January, and the juniors on this team were freshmen the last time it happened.
The current team has just one senior — post player Allison Vernerey — and is more reliant on its offense than the defense-driven group in 2010-11.
These Blue Devils average nearly 81 points and rank third in both scoring margin and field goal percentage, shooting 49 percent. Duke also leads the nation by making nearly 45 percent of its 3-pointers.
Gray and sophomore post player Elizabeth Williams form one of the top one-two punches in the country.
Gray picked up her second career triple-double earlier this month at Boston College and leads the ACC with 98 assists, while Williams is sixth in the league in scoring (15.5 ppg) and tops with 49 blocked shots — at least one in every game of her college career.
Haley Peters is a 53 percent shooter while Tricia Liston makes nearly 48 percent of her 3s for a team that leads the ACC in seven key stat categories.
"They're not really a satisfied group. They don't seem to be into that," McCallie said. "They really like to play well, and they get irritated when they don't, more than most teams I've had where you might have to convince them — 'Look at this film' — these guys kind of know it."
And without any actual losses, the Duke players have taken to treating some of their victories as defeats. The Blue Devils weren't their usual dominating selves during the first half of their last game, a 29-point win at Wake Forest.
"Sometimes when you win a game, you don't win it like you want and you're like, 'We won, but we didn't like it.'" Gray said. "Sometimes that can be taken as a loss by us."
Duke still has room for improvement — its rebounding margin of nearly plus-11 is nice, but McCallie said it can be better.
The starting lineup includes three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman. And incoming recruit Rebecca Greenwell made headlines Monday night by setting a national high school record by making 17 3-pointers in a game.
So while the future looks bright for Duke, the players are keeping their focus on the present.
"You get a bunch of dominos and you're trying to knock them down," McCallie said. "You treat every game the same and you just try to get better after every game. There's no level of satisfaction except there is an excitement to keep going."
Despite some early-season success and hot starts from her key players, not all has been smooth sailing for Coach McCallie. This year, on top of the regular stresses of coaching a top program, her daughter Maddie McCallie is now a college basketball player at Miami of Ohio.
"It's an interesting transition and I'm still trying to figure it out."
This season, after making it through practices and games at Duke, the coach has a second team in mind.
"I miss her a lot. I wish I could be there more for her. I've only seen two games this season and probably won't see any others. It's a humbling thing."
When time allows, Coach McCallie will travel to her daughter's games. However, this is not often. Oftentimes she is stuck watching her daughter's games online. She says she still manages to talk with her daughter plenty, offering her some wise advice.
"I really don't talk a lot about basketball with her. I just make sure she's getting enough rest."
Coincidentally, the coach offers the same advice to her team. Judging by the success of the early season, the advice is serving Duke well.