Former CJ standout Duffy guides Miami to best start in 37 seasons

Miami women’s basketball coach Megan Duffy cheers on her team against Duquense on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at Millett Hall in Oxford. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Miami women’s basketball coach Megan Duffy cheers on her team against Duquense on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at Millett Hall in Oxford. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Miami’s women’s basketball team is on the brink of program history.

The RedHawks, in their second season under Chaminade Julienne graduate Megan Duffy, matched the best seven-game start in program history on Wednesday by improving to 6-1 with a 78-65 win over Cincinnati.

The last time Miami won six of its first seven games was the 1981-1982 season. That team finished 24-9 overall and won the Mid-American Conference championship with an 11-1 record under coach Pam Wettig.

This season’s team version can set a new standard with a win on Saturday at Valparaiso.

»ARCHDEACON: Local legend Duffy ready to revive Miami program

Duffy, who led Miami to a 22-11 record and second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference East Division last season, spent much of the practice time before the Cincinnati game focusing on helping her RedHawks handle the big picture.

“We spent a lot of the past two days finding heart and toughness,” the Notre Dame product said after Wednesday’s win. “We lost it a little bit. We told them, ‘Regardless of the score, we want you to come back to the locker room and feel really good.’ We were looking at our record. ‘Oh, we’re 5-1.’ It became less about the process. We spent more time talking to each other and figuring it out and less time on UC.”

One key to Miami’s early season run is balance. Three players are averaging in double figures in points – 5-foot-3 junior guard Lauren Dickerson at 13.9, 6-2 junior forward Savanah Kluesner at 11.7 and 6-foot senior guard-forward Kendall McCoy at 10.5. Freshman Nia Clark, a 5-9 guard from Indianapolis, is just a whisker outside the club at 9.9 points a game.

That kind of balance makes it difficult to scout Miami. Opponents never know who the hot RedHawk will be in any given game.

“We’re a work in progress,” Duffy said. “It’s going to be different players in different games. Savannah has shown that she can score for us. Having different people step up in different games makes it difficult to guard us. Your number could be called in any game, so you’ve got to be ready.”

The balance has left Dickerson, who needed fewer games to reach 1,000 career points than any player in program history, free to devote more time to playmaking. She moved into ninth place on Miami’s career assists list in the RedHawks’ 65-56 win at Illinois-Chicago last Saturday.

“As a point guard, my goal is to involve my teammates – getting the bigs and the shooting guards touches,” Dickerson said after Wednesday’s win. “It adds to the dynamics of the game, not always having the ball in my hands.”

New blood, led by Clark, also is fueling the RedHawks.

“She’s fast as all get-out,” Dickerson said. “She has so much potential. She hasn’t hit her peak. Anything she can do, she’s doing it.

“The whole class adds grit. They come with grit and swagger. They have confidence in themselves. They’re not scared of anything. They challenge us.”

The RedHawks will be challenged by going on the road for three consecutive games, starting Saturday at 2 p.m. against 3-5 Valparaiso, followed by a post-exam, two-game swing through Florida. They are scheduled to play at Florida A&M on Dec. 16 and at Jacksonville State two days later.

Duffy expects to learn much about her team over the next couple of weeks. She also expects them to learn much about themselves.

“We’re still a work in progress,” she said. “We’re finding an identity for this team. This is a fun time of year. There’s a lot of stuff going on. People forget how much these kids have on their plate. We demand a lot, from practices to scouting reports, and there’s obviously school, too, with exams, and they want to have a little bit of an outside life.”

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