Panthers continue ACC gauntlet against No. 17 Duke

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Panthers continue ACC gauntlet against No. 17 Duke

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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Out of all the strengths of the Duke women’s basketball team, there’s one thing that sticks out to senior point guard Brianna Kiesel.

“Their height,” Kiesel said, with little hesitation.

Of the 11 players on Duke’s roster, eight stand 6 feet or taller. Out of those eight, all but one measure at least 6-foot-3 inches.

It’s this height that stands as the main hindrance in Pitt’s efforts to secure its fourth ACC win, as Pitt (13-6, 3-3 in ACC) faces off against No. 17 Duke (14-6, 5-2) at 6:30 tonight in Durham, N.C.

Conversely, Pitt has three players 6 feet or taller — four, if Bubbles Anderson, who is missing the season with a torn ACL, is included.

Head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio is quite frank in describing the size difference.

“They’re very long and we’re not,” McConnell-Serio said.

Duke uses this height to its advantage, shaping its strategy to beat teams with their size edge. Notably, Duke boasts a 14.4 rebound margin, good for second in the country.

With Pitt’s height being largely trumped, McConnell-Serio said Pitt will have to box out and pursue the basketball to compete on the boards.

On the defensive end, the Blue Devils play a matchup zone, using their height to disconcert their opponents.

“They’re long, they’re athletic and they’re just disruptive,” McConnell-Serio said.

Because of this height, opponents are forced to adjust their gameplans, refraining from bringing the ball inside.

“It’s very difficult to get the ball inside because they’re so long. And when you do go inside, there’s a double team and they’re blocking shots,” McConnell-Serio said.

Instead, Duke’s competitors have often resorted to shooting a heavy amount of 3-point shots. In the last five games, Duke’s opponents have taken 30, 35, 37, 33 and 31 threes, respectively. 

“They force teams into taking an absurd amount of threes,” McConnell-Serio said. “They play the percentages. They believe that teams won’t shoot a high percentage from three.”

Spearheading Duke’s defense is Elizabeth Williams, a 6-foot-3 center and three-time Associated Press All-America and ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

“They have one of the best post players, in my opinion, in the ACC,” Kiesel said.

Averaging three blocks a game — good for 19th in the country — Williams serves as a large deterrent in the middle of Duke’s defense. Largely because of Williams, Pitt will likely attempt more threes than usual. Knocking down these shots behind the arc will be key in beating Duke, McConnell-Serio said.

And when Pitt does choose to challenge Williams inside, Kiesel noted that Pitt will need to use pump fakes, among other tactics, to throw the center’s timing off.

To combat Duke’s defense, McConnell-Serio said solid defense by her team can help corrupt their scheme.

“If we can get stops on the defensive end and create more of an up-tempo game, that is where we need to try to be successful. Not allowing them to get their defense set and being able to attack in transition,” she said.

On the offensive end, Duke uses its size to pound the ball inside. Williams averages 15.1 points per game, while Azurá Stevens (6-foot-5) averages 13.2 and Oderah Chidom (6-foot-4) averages 8.4.

With facing such a physically challenging adversary, one might think beating Duke would be a difficult task. Kiesel, nevertheless, said she was confident that the matchup would not ruffle Pitt.

“We go in expecting to win every game that we play, no matter who we play,” she said.

Over her four years at Pitt, Kiesel said she and her teammates always believed they could take on anybody. Though, she did concede that her team’s current onfidence levelis higher than it has been over her career.

Partly, this assurance is a result of the work she and her teammates have expended this season — work which finally seems to be yielding success.

Her teammate, graduate student forward Monica Wignot, agreed and added that Pitt’s recent practice habits should benefit the team.

“We’re confident, but not overconfident,” Wignot said. “We’ve put hours into the gym and we know that they’re going to pay off.”

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