What to expect when No. 4 N.C. State hosts No. 16 Duke in a women’s basketball battle

·4 min read

Kara Lawson tore down and rebuilt Duke’s women’s basketball roster with games like the one scheduled for Sunday in mind.

The problem is, the Blue Devils’ coach doesn’t figure to have all the talent her transfer-laden roster includes available.

No. 16 Duke heads to face No. 4 N.C. State at Reynolds Coliseum Sunday at 4 p.m. with injury and illness concerns.

Starters Celeste Taylor (upper body injury) and Lexi Gordon (COVID-19 protocols) did not play when the Blue Devils lost 65-54 to Virginia Tech Thursday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Taylor had an arm in a sling during the game while Gordon wasn’t with the team.

That’s obviously not what a team wants to see when heading to face one of the nation’s top teams at N.C. State (15-2, 6-0 ACC).

“It’s uncertain for us,” Lawson said Thursday night. “We continue to have players out every week and it is a challenge. But as we told our players, there’s enough talent in our locker room every night when we start the game for us to win. It really comes down to execution more than it comes down to who is able to play that night.”

Facing a team that’s playing as well as N.C. State only adds to that challenge. The Wolfpack has won five of its six ACC games by 23 points or more with an average margin of victory an impressive 25.2 points. Just staying in the game with N.C. State is the challenge.

But it hasn’t always been a stroll, Wolfpack coach Wes Moore is quick to point out. At Virginia on Thursday night, the Cavaliers led 15-11 after the first quarter having lost 82-55 to the Wolfpack at Reynolds on Dec. 19. N.C. State righted itself from there, posting a 66-43 win in Charlottesville, Va. But Moore insists on more focus.

“You can cover up a lot of sins with energy and urgency,” Moore said. “But, some nights, you can be just a little more fired up and ready to play. And that’s scary. I don’t want to be that team. So we’ll see. We’ve just got to keep working.”

Duke (11-3, 2-2 ACC) will clearly miss Taylor and Gordon if they aren’t available. The 5-11 Taylor averaged 11.7 points, while leading the team in rebounds (6.1) and assists (2.7) per game this season. The 6-0 Gordon has scored 9.8 points per game.

Freshman guard Shayeann Day-Wilson earned her first career start Thursday night when Taylor and Gordon didn’t play. She scored 10 points with four assists, but also turned the ball over three times while making just 2 of 13 shots.

The 5-11 Taylor, from Texas, and the 6-foot Gordon, from Texas Tech, are two of the seven transfers Lawson recruited to Duke after last season. Another is 6-1 forward Elizabeth Balogun, a former Louisville player who scored 15 points Thursday night against Virginia Tech.

“They are a very talented team,” Moore said. “They are one that took real advantage of the transfer portal. Basically brought in seven or eight talented players. Duke is a great team I think they are going to be a big, big challenge.“

An area where N.C. State should have an advantage is in the post with 6-5 senior Elissa Cunane, who averages 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

The Blue Devils struggled to guard Virginia Tech 6-6 junior Elizabeth Kitley on Thursday night when she tallied 19 points and 12 rebounds. Kitley also had 27 points and 13 rebounds when the Hokies beat Duke, 77-55, in Blacksburg, Va., on Dec. 30.

“Hopefully, at some point this season, we will be able to be at full–strength,” Lawson said. “I don’t know if that is a pipe dream or if that will happen,but we will sure hope for it, and I think we will be a pretty good team, eventually, when we get everybody back.”