Duke ready for big stage
Duke has one of the best point guard/center combinations in the game. The Blue Devils lead the country in 3-point field goal percentage. At 16-0, they're the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball.
But to many women's basketball fans, Duke is the great unknown this season.
Beth Mowins and Debbie Antonelli preview the Big East as Duke and UConn get ready for a Big Monday showdown. Plus, they talk to UConn's Kelly Faris.
Unlike the teams ahead of them in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, the fourth-ranked Blue Devils haven't yet played a top-five opponent. They haven't played a game on national television.
That all changes when No. 3 Connecticut hosts Duke on Big Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
I am eager to see this Duke team play in person. Here are a few things I will be keeping my eye on:
I haven't seen a better passer in the open floor than Duke's Chelsea Gray. The junior point guard has superb vision and strength to make passes that others cannot. She already has more than 100 assists on the season, and many have come from no-look and highlight-reel passes. She has tallied two triple-doubles already this season and a 15-assist game (versus Clemson). If you haven't seen her play, it's worth tuning in to this game just to check out Gray.
UConn's Stefanie Dolson and Duke's Elizabeth Williams are the two best centers in the country not named "Griner." Dolson has become a scoring force on both the block and in the high post and is the best passing center in the country (3.5 assists per game).
Williams appears to be 100 percent after missing time in the preseason healing from a stress fracture in her right leg. She leads Duke in points (15.8), rebounds (5.9) and blocked shots (3.3) per game.
When these teams met a year ago, Dolson played only 13 minutes because of foul trouble. Kiah Stokes stepped in and had her best game of the season off the bench for UConn (12 rebounds and five blocks in 28 minutes) and played stellar defense on Williams, who was 3-for-15 from the floor. Stokes, however, has missed five games -- including Saturday's 87-62 victory over Syracuse -- because of a stress reaction in her right shin.
On Monday, a battle of the bigs will once again be brewing in the lane.
Points off turnovers
Duke plays a variety of zone and man-to-man half-court and full-court defenses. The Blue Devils are forcing 23 turnovers a game this season and averaging 27 points off those turnovers. But in the three meetings between these teams the past two years, Duke has averaged just more than 12 points per game off turnovers. If the Blue Devils can't get easy buckets in transition, it will become even more important to run effective half-court sets against a stingy Huskies defense. (A year ago, Duke shot 25 percent from the floor against UConn.)
The 3-point line
UConn has a lot of high-volume 3-point shooters (seven Huskies have attempted 30 or more 3-pointers), while Tricia Liston is the only Blue Devil with at least 30 long-range attempts. UConn is averaging more than 24 3-point attempts per game, and lead the nation in sinking nine per game. The Huskies took 41 3-pointers in their game against Georgetown earlier this month. Duke will need to be ready to defend outside the arc.
Duke doesn't attempt nearly as many 3s as UConn (11 per game), but leads the nation with 43 percent accuracy from 3-point range. The Blue Devils have five players shooting better than 40 percent from downtown. UConn has two (Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kelly Faris).
When it comes to 3-pointers, there should be both quantity and quality on display Monday night.
Duke has been to the Elite 8 the past three seasons. Gray, Liston, Haley Peters, Richa Jackson and Chloe Wells were the No. 1-ranked recruiting class coming out of high school. They are now experienced juniors. After Monday's game, this Duke team will no longer be a great unknown.