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Jonas Pope IV | The Herald-Sun | March 24, 2018

Duke looking forward to opportunity to play top-seeded UConn

  Up next for the Blue Devils is Connecticut, the top seed, and the gold standard for women's college basketball.

DURHAM -- The Duke women's basketball team advanced to the round of 16 after defeating Georgia, 66-40, in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Up next for the Blue Devils is Connecticut (34-0), the top seed in the tournament, and the gold standard for women's college basketball under head coach Geno Auriemma.

Duke (24-8) faces a UConn team that has won 11 national titles and more than 40 conference regular-season and tournament titles. This will be the Huskies' 26th appearance in the Sweet 16, advancing to the third round 25 consecutive seasons.

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This will be Duke's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2015, and head coach Joanne P. McCallie isn't hanging her head about having to play the powerhouse in women's college basketball.

"To play the best team, sure, that's a great experience," McCallie said. "You have that on film. You have that opportunity. They are the best team that's been around a long time, and I think that's a great opportunity for us. You just have to keep your head on straight and not get into everything else about it. Leave everything else aside and just focus on what we need to do."

The Huskies lead the all-time series with Duke 11-3 but are dead even (1-1) in the NCAA tournament. In 2011, UConn defeated the Blue Devils, 75-40, in the Elite Eight. Duke is 3-9 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the country.

If the Blue Devils hope to change that, they have to clean up the turnovers. Against the Bulldogs in the second round, Duke turned the ball over 21 times, compared to just eight against Belmont in the opening round. The Huskies are a team that feasts on sloppy play from their opponents, averaging 22 points off their opponents' turnovers in conference play.

"Connecticut is probably the best team as far as taking a turnover and making it into something," McCallie said. "We have to slow down, not try to go too fast. We have to slow down, execute and take our time a little bit. It'll be a nice test for us."

Another takeaway from the first two games was that McCallie was able to play multiple defenses against very different opponents, "polar opposites" from one night to the next. Against Belmont the Blue Devils had to play man-to-man for 40 minutes against a team that shot a lot of 3-pointers. Against Georgia, they played more of a zone against a team McCallie called very "versatile."

Any concerns with her own defense are in transition. McCallie knows the Blue Devils can't take a play off on the defensive end after a missed basket.

"That's really the concern, the transition defense, getting back and stopping the ball," McCallie said. "Fifteen (Gabby Williams) she just keeps pushing."

On paper, it looks like the Huskies are the odds-on favorite to win their 12th title, and Duke is just the next team in the way. But McCallie can't worry about UConn and its expectations, choosing to focus on what the Blue Devils can take care of. The task of slaying a college basketball giant isn't one she wanted to pass up.

"If you're a team, the team that wants to play basketball, you have to say, 'look, this is what we have to do,' " McCallie said. "You play the individuals, you don't play the uniform. You try to figure out what it is we can do better and execute. Connecticut has a long history, and they are a great, great program and well coached, all that jazz. I don't want to flash the obvious, but the reality is you get to play some great players and to really see what we can do and challenge ourselves and get after it. That's what we have to do. The outcome will take care of itself."

This article is written by Jonas Pope IV from The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.