Guard play leads way in Durham

After some discombobulated early possessions against Winthrop, Duke settled into something more closely resembling offensive cohesion as the first half wore on. A 3-pointer from Liston on the right wing came off an assist from Williams when the center pulled the defense in toward her in the high post and then kicked the ball out to the open shooter, but it was Johnson who made the entry pass to Williams -- the pass that led to the pass that led to the shot.

A minute or so later, she was an outlet valve at the top of the key when Liston didn't have the look she wanted off the dribble on the left wing. The ball went to Johnson and then went right back to Liston, who had reset in better shooting position outside the 3-point arc on the wing. The shot went down and the Blue Devils were up nine and rolling.

These were not masterpieces of point guard play. They represented basic, fundamental ball movement in a half-court set. And if Johnson keeps supplying that, Duke is in business.

Saturday's line of six points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal in 31 minutes is almost as valuable to Duke as what Hrynko and Ellenberg provided their teams. With Johnson playing minutes that matter, Liston and Jackson are free to spend at least parts of each game at their more natural positions on the wings.

As recently as five or six weeks ago, in games against North Carolina, Maryland and Notre Dame in the span of two weeks in February, Johnson played a total of 10 minutes (she did log 14 minutes, a veritable marathon, against NC State in the same span). Even so, she never heard the clock ticking down on her opportunity to contribute. She wouldn't have picked the means by which it finally came, the injuries to both Gray and Jones, but she was ready.

"If I would have thought that, I wouldn't be the player I am today," Johnson said of doubts about the minutes ever coming. "I can't dwell over the minutes I'm getting, the minutes I'm not getting. I just thought about getting better and the team getting better. I think over the years, we've gotten better. I just always worked hard in practice, in the minutes I got in games. I just never sulked like, 'Oh, I'm not getting these minutes.' That takes time and energy away from getting better."

This isn't the team Duke was supposed to be. It might be the team DePaul had a chance to be. But they play Monday night as what they are, the Blue Devils a team with tremendous size, a great shooter and all hands on deck at point guard, and the Blue Demons a small team with a fast engine.

All you can do this time of year is be yourself and hope that at its best, that's enough.

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't.

"The most I can take away from it is my effort," Ellenberg said after her final college game. "I gave all I had for 40 minutes. I don't have anything to hang my head about."

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