Duke is on the brain of every University of Miami basketball player — male and female.
The UM women’s team plays the fifth-ranked Blue Devils (26-1, 16-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) Thursday night at the BankUnited Center, and the fifth-ranked Hurricanes men head to Durham, N.C., for a nationally-televised Saturday showdown against No. 3 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, a rematch of the earlier-season game that the Canes won at home by 27 points.
Both games are critical as February rolls into March and the NCAA Tournament selection committee begins compiling notes and comparing teams’ resumes.
For Katie Meier and her team, it’s a chance to get a late-season signature win over a Duke team that has already clinched the ACC title. It is also an opportunity to avenge a humiliating 82-43 road loss on Jan. 31. In that game, the Canes and Blue Devils were tied 29-29 at halftime, but Duke went on a 20-0 second-half tear and outscored UM 53-14 after intermission.
UM committed 12 second-half turnovers, and the Blue Devils converted them into easy transition baskets. The Canes shot 27.4 percent for the game. Krystal Saunders, who made a career-high five three pointers in the first half, was held scoreless in the second half.
“There were absolute moments we were beating them, but then they just absolutely pounced on us in the second half,” Meier said. “They were relentless. Everyone on their team was amped up, and they forced us into rushed shots. Once we lost our composure, they really took advantage. I don’t remember ever being involved in a game that had such a switch.”
She expects her players to play with more energy and urgency on Thursday, which is Senior Night. The team’s three seniors — Stefanie Yderstrom, Shawnice “Pepper” Wilson and Morgan Stroman — will be honored.
“We need a special game to beat Duke, and we are embracing the opportunity,” Meier said. “There’s no pressure on us, so we’re going for it. We want a special night from all our players. We need every one of them to play with confidence.”
The Blue Devils are coming off back-to-back wins over then-No. 19 Florida State and No. 8 Maryland. The Hurricanes are 18-9 and in fifth place in the ACC with a 9-7 league record. Meier said there is “no question” they have proven to be a postseason team, but they are hoping their best basketball is yet to come.
“We want to make a statement,” said Meier, who is a Duke alum and was an All-American there when she played from 1986 to 1990. “The last couple of years, our game against them decided the ACC title, and they were great games. This year, our first game, we really fell apart in the second half. We won’t let that happen again.”
Duke will be without All-American junior guard Chelsea Gray, who sustained a season-ending dislocated kneecap two weeks ago. But freshman Alexis Jones has been playing well in Gray’s absence.
“Tons of credit to them for being able to overcome the loss of such a valuable player,” Meier said. “Alexis Jones is playing out of her mind. I think Chelsea is the best passer in basketball, has great vision and composure, so for a freshman to come in and play [in Grays’ place] so well is very impressive.”