DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – Duke and DePaul showcased their scoring strength in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Each is out to prevent the other from delivering a repeat performance in their second-round matchup Monday night.
The second-seeded Blue Devils (28-6) and seventh-seeded Blue Demons (28-6) are among just 16 teams in Division I averaging at least 80 points.
DePaul ranks fourth in the nation, averaging 84.3 points. Led by senior forward Jasmine Penny, the Blue Demons have six players scoring at least nine per game.
"DePaul is an excellent team offensively," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "They’ve got a lot of weapons, they share the ball well, and they like to run."
The Blue Demons have won 17 of their last 18 games, including the Big East tournament championship. They have scored at least 80 points on 21 occasions.
DePaul added to that total in the first round Saturday, advancing with a 104-100 victory over No. 10 seed Oklahoma in the highest scoring regulation game in tournament history. The Blue Demons are back in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. They lost to Oklahoma State in the first round last season, missing out on a chance to meet Duke.
"I definitely think we’re prepared to play against this level of competition," DePaul coach Doug Bruno said. "We have to go out and do what we do. We have to play our game. And if we play our game, I think we can definitely make a game of this."
Injuries have forced Duke to finish the season without all three of its point guards, but the team still ranks third nationally in field goal percentage. The Blue Devils shot 54 percent in their 87-45 victory over No. 15 seed Winthrop in the first round.
The challenge against the Blue Demons, whom Duke eliminated in the round of 16 in 2011, will be much greater.
DePaul ranks third nationally in steals and will pressure Duke’s players to make decisions and passes that they didn’t have to make when point guards Chelsea Gray, Alexis Jones and Chloe Wells were on the court.
"This Duke team has had to reinvent itself," Bruno said. "And yet it’s easier to reinvent when you have future pros on the floor than not. I think they’ve done a good job of getting that done."
Tricia Liston has helped lead Duke’s transformation. She leads the team in scoring but has taken on greater ballhandling duties in recent weeks.
Liston grew up less than a 30-minute drive from DePaul’s campus, attended Bruno’s basketball camps as a youngster and knows many of DePaul’s players. But she said she isn’t thinking about those ties entering her team’s most important game of the season.
"Coming into it, our focus definitely is on the defensive end and trying to be able to play at our pace and be able to push the ball when we want to," Liston said. "We’re really focusing in on getting the stops and rebounds that we need in order to do that."
Five things to know about the game Monday in Durham:
SWEET 16 SEPARATION: Duke and DePaul are among nine teams that have appeared in each of the last 12 NCAA tournaments. The Blue Devils reached the round of 16 on 10 occasions in the previous 11 years, while the Blue Demons did so on only twice.
BATTLE ON THE BOARDS: While McCallie praised her team for its tenacity pursuing rebounds, Bruno expressed concern about dealing with the Blue Devils’ size advantage. "We have to rebound the basketball," he said. "The No. 1 most important key is rebounding the basketball. We’re not going to grow overnight."
INSIDE OUT: McCallie wants to see as much passing and as little dribbling as possible against DePaul’s pressure defense. "We’ve got some tremendous post players," she said. "They’ve got to touch the ball several times. Quick shots, just gunning up shots, is not something we need to do. If we’re playing from the inside out, that’s a very good thing."
BRAINS, TOO: For the second time in three seasons, the Blue Demons won the Insider Higher Ed national championship. Teams advance based on their APR and NCAA graduation rate success. They beat Marist in the fictional title game. DePaul knocked out Duke in the second round of that contest.
LONG-DISTANCE CONNECTION: After making 4 of 6 3-point attempts in the Blue Devils’ first-round win over Winthrop, Liston is 25 of 50 from long range for her career in the NCAA tournament. That percentage (.500) ranks second all-time behind the .558 mark that Stanford’s Jennifer Azzi posted from 1988-90.