Duke women will defend Ogwumike with everybody
Duke has eight players. Coach Joanne P. McCallie plans to use
every last one of them on defense to try to stop Stanford star
Nnemkadi Ogwumike and her little sister, Chiney.
”Does it really matter?” McCallie quipped when asked who might
match up with the talented tandem. ”They’re both so great. The
process of elimination, we’ve only got eight.”
Nneka Ogwumike did it all for the top-seeded Cardinal (34-1)
against South Carolina to move her team within one victory of a
fifth straight Final Four in her NCAA tournament farewell. Yet
coach Tara VanDerveer knows she will need more from everybody else
in Monday night’s Fresno Regional final as Stanford puts its
school-record 31-game winning streak on the line against a Duke
team that is doing just about everything right during this
impressive March run.
The second-seeded Blue Devils (27-5) are not only shooting
lights out but moving the ball well to pile up assists and easy
baskets – and they hope to keep it rolling right into the program’s
first Final Four since 2006.
”I think this is a showcase game for women’s basketball,”
Nneka Ogwumike scored 39 points on 14-for-22 shooting and
converted 11 of 12 free throws to go with 10 rebounds in a 76-60
regional semifinal win Saturday night.
Duke delivered a surprising 74-47 rout against third-seeded St.
John’s in Saturday’s first semifinal, and the Blue Devils did it by
making an early adjustment. After Red Storm star Da’Shena Stevens
drove to the basket with ease, McCallie switched her team into a
zone defense that made all the difference.
These two top academic schools should produce an even game with
a trip to Denver on the line.
”Nerd on nerd,” as Chiney Ogwumike put it.
Nneka Ogwumike has seen a little bit of everything during her
standout senior season that has included a challenging schedule
featuring Connecticut, Xavier, Old Dominion, Texas and Tennessee.
She believes those games have helped her prepare for the big stage
”I’ve seen a lot of different defenses – box-and-one, double,
single, zone,” she said. ”This is the big dance. People bring out
some crazy dance moves throughout the whole dance. We’re ready for
Duke has gone six straight games shooting above 50 percent in
the first half, and wound up at 53.7 percent overall Saturday to
follow up its season-best 65.6-percent performance from the field
in a 96-80 second-round win over Vanderbilt in which the Blue
Devils dished out 28 assists.
On Saturday, Chelsea Gray had 13 points, eight steals, four
rebounds and four assists in her homecoming to California’s Central
Valley. She grew up some 75 miles north in Stockton. Gray had 12
assists in the Vandy game to set a Duke record in the NCAA
”The key to their team is, Chelsea Gray makes them go,”
The Blue Devils have been holding regular players-only meetings
to make sure everyone stays on task – and the sessions are usually
led by senior starter Shay Selby and fellow senior Kathleen
Selby felt something was needed after Duke’s stunning 75-73
first-round loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament on
”I just felt our togetherness was a little bit better starting
from the first round,” Gray said, referring to how far the team
has come in a matter of a few weeks. ”We’ve been feeding off each
other really well and it’s showing on the court. We’re closer than
we’ve ever been.”
Selby is Duke’s only senior among the starting five, not that
this group is showing any signs of being young and inexperienced at
this point in the season.
VanDerveer looks at Monday’s game ”as more of a traditional
matchup for us as opposed to some of the games we’ve played.” Four
Blue Devils starters are scoring in double figures, while Selby is
doing the little things with 6.7 points, 3.0 rebounds. 2.6 assists
and 1.7 steals. Her 18 points against St. John’s were a career
high, and she also had seven assists, five rebounds and four
The supporting cast is sure bringing it, too. Gray has scored in
double digits in eight straight games, while fellow sophomore
Tricia Liston has totaled 60 points in Duke’s first three NCAA
”It’s impressive,” Chiney Ogwumike said. ”You look at their
roster and see so many freshmen and sophomores dominating. It’s
cool. That’s my class.”
Still, the Blue Devils know none of what they’ve already done
this month will matter if they can’t slow down the Ogwumike
Chiney Ogwumike is nursing a sprained right knee and took two
scary falls during the regional semifinals, while standout Duke
freshman Elizabeth Williams is playing with a stress fracture in
her lower right leg.
The bulky brace on Chiney Ogwumike’s knee could be a hazard in
itself, she warns.
”It’s tough to hit a knee that will hit you back,” she joked
of an opponent trying to attack her perceived weakness.
Without sharing too many secrets, she found her fair share of
success against big sister growing up by ”sagging off of her and
taking away her vision.”
”I’d back off because she has a quick first step, and I’d have
a hand up,” Chiney Ogwumike said of Nneka, the likely No. 1 pick
in the WNBA draft once this season ends.
”I don’t want our journey to end so soon,” the elder Ogwumike