First-year Duke head coach Kara Lawson will face a ranked opponent for the first time on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET — and it will be against none other than the No. 2 team in the nation. The Duke Blue Devils host the Louisville Cardinals in the ACC opener for both.
Louisville came into the season with a loaded backcourt and Dana Evans, Hailey Van Lith and Kianna Smith did not disappoint in the team’s first game against a ranked opponent on Dec. 4. The trio combined for 62 points in a 116-75 blowout win over the then-No. 20 DePaul Blue Demons. Based on that performance, the Cardinals are now even heavier favorites against the Blue Devils than they were already.
Duke, unlike Louisville, has yet to prove itself; its three blowout wins all came against unranked and non-Power 5 opponents. The Blue Devils do have six players averaging double digits in scoring, however, and a seventh averaging eight points per game. The balanced attack on offense that Duke has shown early could translate to games against tougher opponents and become a strength for the team this season.
Louisville’s top three scorers are Evans, Van Lith and Smith, but 6-foot-3 forward Olivia Cochran has had a lot of success. So far, the Cardinals have started four guards (Evans, Van Lith, Ahlana Smith and Elizabeth Balogun), plus Cochran, who is averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. K. Smith, meanwhile, has done her damage coming off the bench.
Duke is also getting its best scoring efforts from its guards, with junior Miela Goodchild, sophomore Jaida Patrick, freshman Vanessa de Jesus and graduate student Sara Anastasieska leading the way. Anastasieska and K. Smith were teammates on the California Golden Bears.
The Blue Devils start two frontcourt players — Jade Williams (6’5”) and Onome Akinbode-James (6’3”) — as opposed to Louisville’s one. Williams is averaging 10.3 points and nine boards per game, while Akinbode-James is averaging eight and 12.
It will be interesting to see how Cochran does against Duke’s bigs and if 6-foot-5 forward Elizabeth Dixon sees increased minutes off the bench for Louisville. The battle of freshman guards Van Lith and de Jesus also should be intriguing.
Highlights: Hailey Van Lith playing with confidence as a freshman
No. 2 Louisville Cardinals (4-0) vs. Duke Blue Devils (3-0)
When: Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC
Key to the matchup: 3-point shooting. Duke has the advantage from distance and will need to execute to outweigh the versatility of Louisville’s scorers. The Blue Devils have played one fewer game than the Cardinals and have made just one fewer 3-pointer. And that’s on 23 fewer attempts for a shooting percentage of 40.6 compared to Louisville’s 31.5. In addition, Duke holds its opponents to a lower 3-point percentage than Louisville does (21.6 percent to 26.2 percent). To gain an advantage in 3-point shooting, Louisville may need Dana Evans to get back into the groove she was in last year when she shot 43.1 percent from beyond the arc. Right now she is shooting at a 32-percent clip.
Reason to watch: It’s an ACC showdown between two proud women’s basketball programs, with Duke trying to regain elite status under a new head coach in Kara Lawson. This is the first true test of the Lawson era and, also, Louisville’s backcourt is really fun to watch.