by Mike Potter
It’s a pretty rare occurrence in college basketball when a defending NCAA champion plays the only remaining unbeaten Division I team this late in the season.
“Anything that brings women’s basketball attention is always great, but as a player it’s wanting the best for my team and wanting my team to get better,” said Duke senior guard Jasmine Thomas, the only member of the balanced Blue Devils with a double-figure scoring average. “We’re just going into it like another game because that’s what it is for us. They’re a great team, just like we’ve played other great teams and we’re excited about the challenge.
“We can get our turnovers down and that’s something that’s going to be big. UConn has been a program that has made people pay from their mistakes. Playing more together and getting our assists and turnovers down, that will help us. The Stanford game was uncharacteristic of them. They’ll be ready to play at home and they’ll be just as excited as we are.”
Connecticut, which walloped Duke 81-48 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the middle of its record 90-game winning streak, leads the series 5-3. But oddly enough neither team has ever won a game in the series on its home court, and the higher-ranked team has won only four of the eight meetings.
The Huskies have won eight straight games since falling at Stanford 71-59, and have won 72 straight home contests.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie is 1-4 against UConn’s Geno Auriemma, but has led a Michigan State team to a victory in Storrs.
“We will learn a lot from this game,” McCallie said. “This game is a great opportunity for us to learn about ourselves, who we are and what we want to do out there. That’s an important thing to have. Again, given the nature of Geno’s teams and how they are coached, it’s a really tester that way. And again, environment too. I’ve coached at Gampel before and it’s a great place for women’s basketball. And again, being able to look in the mirror a little bit and be in an environment that will be quite loud, very crazy. And there’s simply no way to simulate that environment. It’s not about pumping in a crowd noise. It’s about having the experience.”
Duke’s senior center Krystal Thomas said she’s just looking for a shot against another great team.
“I would just say that going into any game, we look for a team’s weakness and that’s what we try to exploit,” Krystal Thomas said. “I’ve played a lot of great posts in the country. I’ll be ready for what is thrown at me.”
McCallie’s team has played the toughest schedule in the country to this point and it gets even tougher tonight.
“I think for us, being able to play some great opponents and really learn a little bit about ourselves and challenge ourselves, especially our young players (including Duke’s five freshmen.) “I think it’s been very productive for us and playing Geno’s teams is sort of that experience even further relative to kind of looking in the mirror and getting a sense and a feel for what we need to do to get better. So it’s a great opportunity because his teams are so well-coached and so good at what they do.”
No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Connecticut
[Monday, 7 p.m., Gampel Pavilion, Storrs]
Audio: WDNC 620.
Video: ESPN 2.
Records: Duke 20-0; UConn 20-1.
Coaches’ records — Duke: Joanne P. McCallie 418-170, 102-22 at Duke; UConn: Geno Auriemma 735-122 at UConn.
Leading scorers — Duke: Jasmine Thomas 15.0; UConn: Maya Moore 23.8.
Leading rebounders — Duke: Krystal Thomas 8.0; UConn: Maya Moore 8.1.
Assist leaders — Duke: Jasmine Thomas 3.4; UConn: Maya Moore 3.9.