Gray exploits Terps' depleted backcourt

Maryland coach Brenda Frese torched the officials' ears Monday in a 71-56 loss at Duke, getting an early exit after picking up two technical fouls late in the game. She didn't like the fouls that the referees were calling, nor the ones that she thought they should have called. But what really hurt the Terrapins was … the Terrapins who are hurt.

Refs are always a target for frustrated coaches, but Frese just as well could have been yelling at a medical diagram. Specifically, one that showed a torn ACL. Because that injury has been a source of a lot of misery for the Terps this season.

After having lost guard Anjale Barrett to graduation, the Terps also have seen guards Brene Moseley and Laurin Mincy go down with ACL injuries. As did post player Essence Townsend.

The missing guards have been a void that Maryland admirably has filled for much of this season. However, the Blue Devils took advantage in a big way Monday.

Duke point guard Chelsea Gray had a career-high 28 points in a game that the home crowd in Durham, N.C., thoroughly enjoyed.

After all, three weeks ago, Duke had to choke down yet another spoonful of bitter medicine from UConn in a nationally televised Monday night game. That was Duke's first (and still only) loss of the season, and Gray was flummoxed by the Huskies' Kelly Faris. Gray was limited to 1-of-6 shooting for two points, with her four assists offset by four turnovers.

It wasn't really a back-to-the-drawing board loss for Duke, but it was a take-stock game for Gray. The 5-foot-11 junior out of California has evolved into one of the women's college game's best floor generals, but it didn't show against UConn.

Since that humbling by the Huskies, Duke not only hasn't lost, the Blue Devils really haven't had a close game. They've beaten Clemson, Boston College, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland by an average of 22.3 points.

At 12-0 in the ACC, Duke has a two-game lead over North Carolina and Maryland, which are tied for second. With UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell trying for her 900th victory on Feb. 3 in Chapel Hill, N.C., the Blue Devils said, "Forget it. You'll have to get that somewhere else." They squashed the Tar Heels in a game that actually wasn't as close as the 21-point margin.

Then Monday, Gray took command against Maryland, not just offensively but as the spark plug of a defensive effort that made things really hard for the Terps. Alyssa Thomas and Tianna Hawkins were a combined 7-of-30 from the field, totaling 20 points. The Terps had 24 turnovers.

Yet despite Maryland's struggles, the Terps were down just 57-50 with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left. It was still a winnable game for Maryland, which was pretty remarkable all things considered.

But then Thomas missed a shot, Gray got a layup, and Frese lost her cool. Actually she seemed on the verge of that all night. Two technicals during a TV timeout sent Frese to the locker room and Gray to the foul line.

Swish, swish, swish, swish. It was that kind of night for Gray. And with those free throws, Duke had a 13-point lead that the Blue Devils were not in danger of losing the rest of the way.

Duke still has to face Maryland (Feb. 24 in College Park, Md.) and North Carolina (March 3 in Durham) again during the regular season. Can the Blue Devils run the table in the ACC, and perhaps bump up from what is projected right now as a No. 2 seed in Bracketology by Charlie Creme? Yes and yes, especially if Gray is able to keep performing the way she did Monday.

However, we do need to point out, again, that Maryland was still within seven points late in this game. The Blue Devils must take note of that … but so should the Terps.

Because despite everything that was going wrong, Maryland remained in contention. There's nothing the Terps can do about the guard shortage that has been a burden they've had to bear all season. But the odds of both Thomas and Hawkins struggling so much on the same night are probably low.

Which means Round 2 between Duke and Maryland should be very compelling.