Hampton-Duke Preview

Duke hasn’t missed a beat with Alexis Jones running the

show.

Since sliding over to play point guard after Chelsea Gray was

injured, the flashy freshman has played with supreme confidence –

and her versatility and leadership have kept the Blue Devils flying

high entering the NCAA tournament.

”Basically, (I’m) just using my skill ability that I have and

basically trying to make the team just go like I know I can,”

Jones said.

Jones will have to keep it going for a few more weeks if the

second-seeded Blue Devils (30-2) are to reach their first Final

Four since 2006.

They begin tournament play on Sunday against 15th-seeded Hampton

(28-5) in the first round of the Norfolk Regional.

She seems to be at her best when facing the best opponents.

Jones’ three highest-scoring games have all come against nationally

ranked teams and in the absence of Gray, the Atlantic Coast

Conference co-player of the year.

Her run was capped by a 24-point performance against North

Carolina in the ACC championship game, led to her selection as the

MVP of the tournament and prompted some high praise from Tar Heels

coach Sylvia Hatchell.

”From what I can see, they’re probably a better team with

Alexis Jones out there than they were with Chelsea Gray,” Hatchell

said. ”They’re doing a lot of things with Alexis at point that

they weren’t doing when Chelsea was there.”

When Gray went down with a dislocated kneecap on Feb. 17, the

question popped up immediately – how could the Blue Devils possibly

be as good without their star, pass-first point guard?

But Jones – with a quick first step and the ability to create

her own shot – has done plenty to soothe those concerns. Duke is

6-1 since Gray’s injury.

”I think it’s just more of the teams that we play, and more of

the creating that I can do to help our team,” Jones said.

She scored a then-season high 15 points in a win at No. 8

Maryland and outdid herself with 22 against North Carolina in the

regular season finale before taking over the ACC tournament,

averaging nearly 18 points in three games while leading the Blue

Devils to their third league title in four years.

”I tell you, it’s inspiring, isn’t it?” coach Joanne P.

McCallie said. ”She’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever coached

and as she developed with her dad coaching her, she must have

developed that skill, and it has allowed her to be beyond her years

in maturity and also in skill level.”

Jones developed those moves back in her hometown of Midland,

Texas, out of necessity.

Her father and first coach, David Jones, said she started

playing at age 4, performed the same drills as her brother who is

nine years older than she is, and played with seventh-grade girls

while she was in the fourth and fifth grades.

She came up with her repertoire while playing against the boys

back in Midland, including current Baylor wide receiver Antwan

Goodley.

”They don’t like to lose, so they treated me like a guy – they

never treated me like, `Oh, she’s just a girl, she can’t play,”’

Alexis Jones said. ”Guys are a lot quicker and they like to

dribble, so just watching them play, I think, I developed my skills

by playing one-on-one a lot.”

Of course, Jones considers herself lucky that she’s even alive

to play basketball.

When she was a seventh-grader in 2007, David Jones was driving

her and four other people from Midland to a practice when their car

hit some ice near Sweetwater and flipped three times before coming

to a stop. The five passengers were unharmed, but David Jones broke

two vertebrae in his neck and was paralyzed from the chest

down.

Suddenly, he couldn’t coach her anymore and that ”kind of threw

her for a loop because she didn’t know who to go to anymore.” But

she matured and became comfortable with new coaches when the family

moved to Irving, Texas. His health improved to the point where he

could coach again, this time for his youngest son’s youth team.

He came to Durham for his daughter’s first college game back in

November, and flew to Greensboro two weeks ago for his daughter’s

breakout performance at the ACC tournament.

He hopes the next time he sees her play in person will be in two

weeks in New Orleans – at the Final Four.

”She just had to find her niche up there at Duke to fit her

game in with the rest of the players so she can help them win,”

David Jones said. ”I think, now, she has.”

The Pirates rolled through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

for their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance and became the

second team in league history to go undefeated in league play and

win the conference tournament. Hampton, which has won 19 straight,

leads the nation in scoring defense at 47.2 points per game, is

second in defensive field-goal percentage (31.6) and third in

3-point defensive field goal percentage (23.8).

“It wasn’t what we wanted, but it’s what we got,” said coach

David Six, whose Hampton team lost to Duke 72-37 in the first round

in 2010. “I think we’re better than a 15 seed.”

MEAC player of the year Keiara Avant will be the offensive focal

point for the Pirates. She averages 16.1 points and 10.2 rebounds,

and is 10th in the nation with 20 double-doubles.

The winner of this game will play the winner of No. 7 seed

Oklahoma State and 10th-seeded DePaul in the second round on

Tuesday.