Duke-UConn: It’s More Than A Game

by Categorized: duke women's basketball, Geno Auriemma, Joanne P. McCallie, UConn women's basketball Date:

When No. 1 UConn travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium next Tuesday to play No. 2 Duke, the top ranking in the nation will naturally be at stake. But there will be much more to it.

Duke hasn’t beaten UConn since the 2006 NCAA Tournament when a team coached by Gail Goestenkors eliminated the Huskies in overtime, 63-61, in Bridgeport.

In the six subsequent meetings, UConn is 6-0 with a average margin of victory of 29.3. Some of the defeats have been major smackdowns; a 32-point win at Duke in 2010, a 35-point win in the NCAA Tournament in 2011, a 30-point win last season at Gampel.

And even though the players come and go, the coaches are the same. And Joanne P. McCallie obviously wants nothing more than to beat UConn if for no other reason than to have some ammunition to throw at the future recruits the programs will battle for.

Duke wanted Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart. They fought hard for Courtney Ekmark, the Phoenix guard who will be in UConn’s freshman class next season.

They did get high school All-American center Elizabeth Williams, now a junior. And they won a few recruiting battles in the Goestenkors years.

But recently, its been all UConn.

Before the start of training camp, McCallie was in New York City with Geno Auriemma to help promote the Jimmy V Foundation, which Tuesday’s game will help honor on ESPN2.

Here’s is what she had to say about her jousts with UConn:

“You fight, you compete the best you can. But we have not done well [in comparison] with UConn when the player has come from New York or north, like Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Breanna Stewart,” McCallie said. “You want to go after the best players and we have not cornered any market. UConn has had their string of success. But we want kids who want to make a little of their own history. It’s a different thing. We are trying to break through. We want kids like that.”

UConn and Duke are off to identical 10-0 starts. The Blue Devils have won at California (70-58) and Oklahoma (94-85). UConn has beaten Stanford, won at Maryland and Penn State and beaten Ohio State on a neutral floor.

And after Tuesday’s game. UConn will play California (Dec. 22) in New York and at Baylor (Jan. 13) before getting started on what promises to be a comparatively weak American Athletic Conference schedule.

Duke plays at Kentucky (Dec. 22) and then gets thrown into the highly competitive ACC with North Carolina, Maryland and now Notre Dame.

“Look, I am not going to be around to break any records,” McCallie said. “We are just rolling the dice with our schedule. To me it’s the hardest schedule in the country, the hardest schedule ever played at Duke. We opened at Cal. We traveled to Oklahoma [and will go to Kentucky]. It’s all meant to get us ready.

“We couldn’t overcome the loss to Chelsea Gray [knee injury] last year and lost in the Elite Eight. But we’ve played against Maya Moore {UConn], Brittney Griner [Baylor] and Chiney Ogwumike [Stanford] in the Elite Eight over the last few years. I am proud of my players. I know people here are waiting for us to win  a national championship. We will. It will come. But it’s a process.”

Auriemma has said a number of times he doesn’t care if UConn loses Tuesday, although you know, deep down in his heart, he wants to win. His point is that what comes next, especially in March, is more important and last season’s national champion did lose four games.

We don’t even know if junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis or sophomore Morgan Tuck will factor into the lineup, even if they are ready to go. It’s likely Auriemma will keep that piece of information quiet, perhaps to use as a late surprise for Duke come next week. Or maybe he doesn’t even care about keeping the suspense high. He is a confident guy.

But you figure this is going to be a big night for Duke. McCallie wants to win, likely needs to win for a number of reasons we can only speculate about.

It’s going to be very interesting.





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