DURHAM – No. 2 Duke just finished final exams, and now, the Blue Devils’ women’s basketball players are preparing for a different kind of test.
No. 1 Connecticut is coming to town. The Blue Devils (10-0) and Huskies (10-0) meet tonight in the biggest game of the season so far.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said the matchup means more to women’s basketball as a whole than it does to her team.
“I think the 1-2 thing is already doing what it should do – drawing attention to the game,” McCallie said. “It’s very important that women’s basketball continues to grow.”
But for her Blue Devils, she added that “this is one game.”
“We’ve got a lot of games to play,” she said. “That’s it. I’m sorry to disappoint. It’s one game, and we’ve got a whole lot after that, and it’s not March or April. It’s a chance to test ourselves.”
Tests this tough don’t come along all the time – especially for a Duke program that can take a huge step forward with a win against a perennial nemesis that has won six straight in the series by an average of nearly 30 points.
UConn is the only visitor since 2008 to come into Cameron Indoor Stadium and beat Duke.
In both 2010-11 and last year, the Huskies welcomed undefeated Blue Devils teams to Connecticut – and blew them out.
“I think sometimes we have a mental block,” Duke point guard Chelsea Gray said. “‘Oh, we’ve got to get that stop,’ and it bleeds from there. They’ll go on runs, and we just haven’t had that stop like, ‘We’re going to stop that run.’”
This marks the seventh No. 1-vs.-No. 2 game in Duke history and the first since the then-top-ranked Blue Devils beat North Carolina 64-53 in 2007, the season before McCallie arrived.
UConn, meanwhile, has won 14 of its 17 all-time 1-vs.-2 matchups and are 10-1 in them when it’s the top team.
“As long as we stay focused on what it is that we do, we usually end up being fine,” UConn guard Bria Hartley said.
The Blue Devils are trying to beat a No. 1 team for the first time since knocking off Maryland in 2007 and replacing the Terrapins at the top spot.
The Huskies’ last visit to Cameron in 2011 marked the only home loss ever experienced by Duke’s five seniors.
The Blue Devils were 20-0 in 2010-11 before UConn beat them by 36 points, and last season, they were 16-0 before a 30-point loss to the Huskies.
“We’ve never really played a full 40 minutes” against UConn, guard Tricia Liston said. “We’ve kind of gotten outside of ourselves or lost focus. ... We haven’t put two good halves together since we’ve played them. That hurts us.”
The Huskies should be at full strength for this one.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said she expects to play after missing eight games with a nerve contusion on her right elbow suffered in a win against Stanford on Nov. 11.
The Huskies also expect a return from Morgan Tuck, who has been out since undergoing surgery on her right knee Nov. 12 to repair a meniscus. Both have been practicing on a limited basis since Dec. 8.
“You hate sitting out,” Tuck said. “And me and Kaleena were out for about a month, so it was nice to be able to get out there and just be out there with the team. I think I’m feeling kind of myself. I’m still just trying to get back in game shape. I think that’s the biggest thing. And just making sure that I’m still confident, not worrying about anything and just going out there and playing.’”