DURHAM, N.C. – No. 5 Duke is running out of chances to learn out how to play without its injured point guard.
Chelsea Gray made the Blue Devils go. But she’s lost for the season with a knee injury, and they’re still trying to get comfortable playing without her.
Duke (26-2, 16-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) has already sewn up the top seed for next week’s league tournament.
But the Blue Devils have only three games worth of experience without Gray, going 2-1 in that stretch. That makes the regular-season finale against No. 15 North Carolina (26-4, 14-3) today important for a reason that goes beyond the rivalry: It marks their final consequence-free opportunity to figure things out before tournament play.
“We’re a December team when everybody else is March 1,” coach Joanne P. McCallie said Friday. “That doesn’t come that quickly. There haven’t been enough games and game experiences. We’re figuring things out together as a team, but this isn’t like magic.”
Maybe not, but the Blue Devils don’t have the luxury of time. Not with Selection Monday a little over two weeks away.
For most of the season, Duke was on the short list of teams with legitimate Final Four expectations. The Blue Devils opened with 16 straight wins, were the nation’s last unbeaten team in either gender and appeared destined for New Orleans.
Much of that was because of the versatile Gray, the ACC’s leader in both assists (5.4) and steals (3.6) and one of only two women in league history with multiple triple-doubles.
But everything changed when she was hurt Feb. 17, suffering a freak injury as she was fouled while chasing a rebound, and they’ve been hard to figure out ever since.