Duke, Waner off to dominating start in tourney
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Oh, sure, Duke's Abby Waner hit 6-of-8 3-pointers on the way to a team-high 26 points Sunday but big deal. She could do that in her sleep. Waner makes the 3-point shooting motion look simpler than yawning.
That's spelled S-W-A-T! With authority! A "Rocky Mountain Rejection!"
The Duke band and fans woofed. Blue Devils guard Wanisha Smith administered the required chest bump to Waner. And later, Waner got a rating of "a perfect 10" from one of the world's leading authorities on blocked shots, Duke center Alison Bales.
"I was very impressed," said Bales, who has 428 blocks at Duke.
"It was the third of my career," Waner quipped. (Actually, she has 22.) "Normally, I'm the one getting blocked like that. There are certain plays in basketball that get you fired up, and a solid block is one of them."
Sunday was definitely a fired-up and feel-good night for the top-seeded Blue Devils. Several months ago, they lost to NC State in the ACC tournament semifinals -- all right, it had only been 15 days since Duke last played, but it seemed like forever -- and they needed to get some "we are the windshield, you are the bug" mojo going.
Same thing, really for the two other No. 1 seeds who lost in their conference tournaments, Tennessee and Connecticut. North Carolina really didn't need to have that, considering the Tar Heels won the ACC final, but they got it, too.
Duke, Tennessee, UConn and North Carolina beat Holy Cross, Drake, UMBC and Prairie View by a combined score of 7,257 to 23 well, something like that and all four No. 1 seeds motored into the second round like 18-wheelers in the passing lane on a highway in one of those states where there are more cows than people.
(OK, an aside in Sunday night's last game at the RBC Center, Nebraska played Temple, which meant Huskers mascot Lil Red was here. He's one of those big inflatable things with a person inside I think. Frankly, I have always wondered if maybe it's not really a person in a costume at all, and Lil Red really exists. Anyway, Lil Red does this gag where he bounces on his head, and no matter how many times I've seen it in 11 seasons of covering the Big 12, I always crack up when he does it.)
Back to Waner -- I was just kidding about the 3-pointers being ho-hum. Every one she made in the Blue Devils' 81-44 victory over the Crusaders was a beautiful bomb, but especially the one with 12 seconds left before halftime on an assist from sister Emily. It was one of those 3s where it almost seems like Waner shoots before she catches the pass.
The big reason she's able to hit those shots, Waner said, is that she reminds herself to constantly be in position to shoot every second she's on the offensive end of the floor, no matter how far from the basket.
"If you're going to be a good shooter, you need range because you're not always going to be open right near the 3-point line," Waner said. "I guess I got some of that from watching J.J. Redick. No matter where he was, he was squared up with his feet set. Whether he was NBA range or right next to the line. That makes it a lot easier to get a shot off."
However, Waner wasn't set when she launched a 3 with nine seconds left in the Blue Devils' loss to NC State that would have tied the game.
"It's something I do and I don't know why -- when the time is running down, I tend to fade," Waner said of her motion on those shots. "I thought I'd have a better shot of getting it off. But after the game, you think, 'Well, if I were going forward I would have a better chance at making it or the potential of getting fouled and getting three free throws.' It was a mental mistake on my part and something the coaches always work on with me. I understand when I miss shots, the biggest part is getting my feet set."
Of course, it's pretty hard to pick on Waner for that miss, considering she made five 3-pointers against the Wolfpack that day and six the day before against Virginia. Meaning she is now 17-of-26 from behind the arc (65.4 percent) in her last three games.
Asked about why great shooters like Waner can go on such amazing runs, coach Gail Goestenkors shook her head.
"If I could explain it, I'd be a millionaire," she said. "I don't know. She's been hot since the ACC tournament. She had two great games [there], so we're going to ride this as long as we can.
"She feels good right now with her shot, and the team is doing a good job getting her the ball. We hope it continues."
By the way, Bales was still the blocks leader in this game, with five. She also had 13 points and a team-best eight rebounds. And she really didn't mind ceding "best block of the night" to a guard.
"I felt like Alison Bales for a little bit," Waner said.
Now if Bales starts hitting 3-pointers -- she does have two of them in her career -- how is anybody going to guard Duke? Never mind. It's already hard enough.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.