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,”

VanDerveer said.

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

now.

”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

anything.”

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

tournament.

”The key to their team is, Chelsea Gray makes them go,”

VanDerveer said.

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

Scheer.

Selby felt something was needed after Duke’s stunning 75-73

first-round loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament on

March 2.

”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

steals.

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

wins.

”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

sisters.

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

said.