by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Joanne P. McCallie said that when she was making this season's schedule for her Duke women's basketball team, she expected James Madison to be pretty good.
Just maybe not this good.
The No. 7 Blue Devils (7-2) will be playing their fourth nationally-ranked opponent of the season on Friday night at 7, when the No. 24 Dukes (7-0) visit Cameron Indoor Stadium.
JMU is 2-0 against the ACC this season, having beaten Virginia Tech 66-59 at home and No. 14 Virginia 75-73 on the road.
Duke has won 19 straight home games and 33 straight December home games.
The Blue Devils are coming off a loss, as they fell 71-55 at No. 2 Stanford on Tuesday night.
"Our guards had rims in their eyes and springs in their arms," McCallie said at her Thursday press luncheon. "It was frustrating as all get-out. (Our post players) did not touch the ball enough. Our guards were too quick, and not understanding the tempo of the game enough. We've got to be able to manage those games. Both teams are pretty good, and one's playing at home. It's not just gun city."
McCallie said that when the schedule was made, she and her staff expected JMU to have a good enough team to make the NCAA Tournament. Point guard Dawn Evans is averaging 26.5 points per game for the Dukes.
"I knew they were going to be good, but no one would have predicted undefeated and two ACC wins," McCallie said of the Dukes. "They have 'Kristi Toliver' (the former Maryland guard now with the WNBA's Chicago Sky) on that team, plain and simple. Evans/Toliver, synonymous. Unbelievable guard. Averaging 27 points a game. Never saw a shot she didn't like. She can create, she plays within her team, gives her team the ball, takes shots left and right.
"Their guard play is over the moon, between her and the freshman (Tarik Hislop) who thinks she's like her. She's mimicking the junior Evans. This is one of the best backcourts you'll see coming to Cameron. This will be right up there with any backcourt you'll see come into Cameron this season."
Junior center Krystal Thomas (pictured), the Blue Devils' rebounding and field-goal percentage leader, said her team is aware of the challenge JMU presents.
"They're very quick, they're very athletic and they have great guard play," Thomas said. "Their best player (Evans) so far against the ACC is averaging over 30 points in their wins over Virginia and Virginia Tech. So far against great competition she's put up great numbers. We have to definitely be prepared for their guard play. They're great in transition, so we have to be prepared to play good transition basketball and take care of business."
Thomas said she thinks the lessons learned in the early-season losses at Texas A&M and Stanford will be good for Duke in the long run.
"The biggest thing is, you find your weaknesses early instead of waiting until late February or March when it's one-and-done," Thomas said of the tough scheduling. "We find out right away what our weaknesses are and where we need to improve, and it really gets you battle-tested for how important and how intense and strenuous post-season play is in February and March."
Tonight is Duke's annual "Toys for Tots" game, with fans encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys to donate for underprivileged children.
Following Friday's game, Duke will go to Maine for a Monday night contest before returning to Cameron to face cross-town rival N.C. Central on Dec. 28.
No. 7 Duke vs. No. 24 James Madison
[Friday, 7 p.m., Cameron Indoor Stadium]
Duke leads series 3-1.
Records: JMU 7-0, Duke 7-2.
Audio: WDNC-AM 620, GoDuke.com, JMUSports.com.
Coaches' records - JMU: Kenny Brooks 153-72; Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 375-166, 59-18 at Duke.
Leading scorers - JMU: Dawn Evans 26.5; Duke: Jasmine Thomas 17.3.
Leading rebounders - JMU: Sarah Williams 6.7; Duke: Krystal Thomas 7.1.
Assist leaders - JMU: Dawn Evans 3.5; Duke: Jasmine Thomas 4.8.