No. 17 Duke looks for consistency during up-and-down year
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Coach Joanne P. McCallie doesn't always know what she's going to get from No. 17 Duke.
Her Blue Devils (15-6, 6-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) have been good enough to knock off No. 10 Kentucky and take top-ranked South Carolina to the final seconds.
They've also been bad enough to lose to struggling Boston College.
So, which Duke team will show up Monday night to face No. 8 Louisville is questionable at best.
''We're just one of those X-factor teams,'' the coach said, adding that ''you just don't know with Duke this year, and I think that's an OK place to be.''
That's a change for a program that reached four straight regional finals from 2010-13 and had a four-year run in the top 10 end earlier this season.
Duke's current ranking matches its lowest under McCallie, who's in her eighth year at the school, and the last time the Blue Devils were ranked lower was in 1999-2000.
''Nobody said we were the top team in the country - we didn't ever claim it - but we're trying to overcome events outside our control,'' McCallie said.
Injuries, roster turnover and an improved ACC that has three top-10 teams - and none of them are traditional powers North Carolina or Duke - have made this season one of adjustment for the Blue Devils.
For the previous four years, McCallie could count on a nucleus of Haley Peters, Tricia Liston and - when healthy - Chelsea Gray. That trio was the core of three of those regional final teams.
They graduated, and then key guard Alexis Jones transferred to Baylor so she could be closer to her family in Texas.
That left All-American post player Elizabeth Williams as the only returner who played significant minutes in 2013-14 - and an early-season foot injury that kept her out of three games coincided with back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Nebraska, both in the top 12 at the time.
Also complicating matters: the cryptic midseason departure of guard Sierra Calhoun, who started her first 13 games and averaged 10 points but left the program on the day of what would have been her 14th game for unclear reasons.
McCallie called Calhoun's move ''the saddest thing I've ever seen in college athletics'' because ''she wanted to stay and other decision-makers were moving along.''
Among Duke's current top eight players, four are either freshmen or sophomores and one is a junior-college transfer in her first year. Their top two scorers behind Williams are redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell (14.1 ppg) and freshman Azura Stevens (13.2).
''It's been a learning season just because we have a lot of young players,'' Greenwell said.
They've had some rough moments, such as losing by 31 points at No. 2 Connecticut after leading late in the first half, or that four-point loss to a Boston College team that hadn't won any other ACC games.
They also beat the Wildcats by 21 - two weeks after losing to the Gamecocks on a putback with 1.8 seconds to play - and topped rival North Carolina in overtime behind Williams' career-high 33 points.
Now the challenge is to find some level of consistency during the season's stretch run.
''With injuries and Sierra leaving earlier, we had to kind of come together and build and adjust to that,'' Williams said. ''It's one of those things we're trying to build with each game that's going on, especially through conference play.''
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