With wins over Syracuse and Clemson the Louisville women’s basketball team now sits at 2-0 in ACC play and rides a five game winning streak back into the KFC Yum! Center. The Cardinals will welcome a 7-6 Duke Blue Devils team that claims the third-toughest schedule in the country. In the case of Syracuse the poor record could legitimately be said to be due to the gauntlet of top-tier opponents. As for Duke, their only two games against ranked opponents (Texas A&M and South Carolina) were lost by a combined 64 points and the Blue Devils find themselves in a three game skid. In other words, the Cardinals look well positioned to continue a winning streak that is quickly putting the loss at Ohio State well behind.

Game Info:

DATE: Sun 05 Jan 2019
TIME: 2:00 p.m. EST
SITE: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)
WATCH: ACC Network
LISTEN: 790 AM WKRD

When last Louisville and the Blue Devils duked it out the Cardinals managed to walk out of Cameron Indoor Arena with a dominant 73-51 win. With a win against Duke at home on Sunday the Cards will have made it three straight over the Blue Devils. The chances of that happening are greatly improved considering it’s not too difficult to scout Duke seeing as Duke is almost exactly the same team as it was last season.

Top scoring guard Haley Gorecki (17.5 ppg) and top scoring swingman Neah Odom (14.1 ppg) are bringing nearly the exact offensive production that they did for the Blue Devils last season. Not far behind, just as with last season, comes starting guard Miela Goodchild to round out Duke’s double-figure scorers. And just as with last year the Blue Devils are struggling to find a consistent player to run the point.

The primary differences come begin with the return of R-Fr. Mikayla Boykin who debuted against Wake Forest this week. Boykin was a promising prospect before going down with ACL injuries last January and her return definitely gives Duke a more dynamic option in the back court. But it remains to be seen how ready for prime time she truly is. In her absence Azana Baines has stepped up considerably. The 6’1″ freshman is contributing 7.4 PPG off the bench and looks to be a rising star in Durham. The new and returning faces are rounded out by starting guard Kyra Lambert who returns as a graduate after dealing with knee injuries over the past two seasons.

But despite the return of key guards and the addition of a new recruit, the Blue Devils continue to struggle in finding a central figure around which to build their offense. Neah Odom is the natural choice at 6’2″ with the ability to play up top and down low. But she’s had difficulty adjusting to the point and continues to be better suited coming off the bench as a power forward. And now the chances for her development are reduced as she has missed the last two games with a lower body injury and is questionable to play in Louisville.

Without a traditional point person the Blue Devils rely on a fast-paced transition offense that seeks to move the ball as quickly as possible. Ball movement draws defenders off balance, shots open up, and open shots provide the opportunity to set the defense. While not the best rebounding team, the combination of 6’5″ Jade Williams and 6’3″ Onome Akinbode-James stand ready to do battle on the glass. Normally Odom provides the additional effort on rebounding and so her absence will be sorely missed while opening up greater opportunities for Louisville’s bigs.

In another similarity to last year, the Blue Devils generally sit in the middle or lower half of the ACC stat columns. The one bright spot are the 9-10 steals per game, attributable to the quick tempo. But like Clemson, the Blue Devils are giving up the ball almost as easily as they’re taking it away. Considering Louisville’s quickness and propensity for transition buckets, that’s not a good stat for Duke.

As for the Cardinals, everything’s starting to look sharpened, polished, and ready for battle. Dana Evans’ stellar performance at Clemson placed her at the top spot for ACC scoring with 19.1 PPG. Add to that her 7th-best in the league assist total and her best in the league three point shooting percentage (42.6%) and you’ve got the recipe for a player that’s contending for numerous end of year honors.

Joining her are Jaz Jones and her 3rd-best in the ACC 57% shooting and Kylee Shook’s ACC-leading 2.43 blocks per game. In Jaz’s case it’s clear she’s taking her coach’s advice and the scouting reports to heart as she seems to be picking apart opposing defenses with ease. Kylee meanwhile is showing the aggression and vocalization that many Cardinals fans have known was in her but were still anxious to see.

All in all, Jeff Walz looks to be getting the complete team that’s able to put together complete games that he’s always looking for. A win over Duke takes the Cards to 3-0 in conference play before a tough test down in Miami. But if the trends continue we’ll be seeing great things from this team in March.

Game Info:

DATE: Sun 05 Jan 2019
TIME: 2:00 p.m. EST
SITE: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)
WATCH: ACC Network
LISTEN: 790 AM WKRD

PROBABLE STARTERS:

#7 Louisville (13-1 | 2-0)
G #1 Evans
G #4 Balogun
G #23 Jones
F #33 Dunham
F #21 Shook

Duke (7-6 | 1-1)
G #2 Gorecki
G #3 Goodchild
G #15 Lambert
F #24 Akinbode-James
F/C #25 Williams

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Your source for UofL Women's Basketball + Men's/Women's Soccer news via the The Crunch Zone. If I'm not at a UofL game you can find me at a Louisville City FC game, or doing Men's Basketball post-game on ESPN680/93.9 The Ville with my man Joe Kelly. Husband, cat owner, sports consumer.

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