Editor's note: Before the Sweet 16 tips off, ESPN's Beth Mowins takes a look at one player to watch from each of the No. 2 seeds. Here, she focuses on Duke's Alison Bales.
Alison Bales is the ultimate bailout. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is often waiting in the wings if someone sneaks by her Duke teammates. And she's a big reason the Blue Devils' defense is one of the best in the country.
Bales will get plenty of help from 6-5 Chante Black and 6-3 Mistie Williams in the Sweet 16. Their job is to put the clamps on Georgia center Tasha Humphrey and prevent the Lady Bulldogs' dribble penetration.
Neither is a small order, but Bales is up to the task.
She played sparingly in her freshman campaign, hobbled by knee injuries and a deep Duke roster. Then over the summer, Bales made a commitment to make sure she would be ready for a new start this season. She hit the weights and made herself much stronger. As a result, she says she plays harder, lasts longer and doesn't get tired so easily in games.
Bales was terrific in Duke's win Tuesday over Boston College in the second round. Bales busted out, scoring 10 of her 16 points down the stretch, and finishing with five rebounds and six blocks, as well. It was a breakthrough 20 minutes, according to coach Gail Goestenkors.
"I almost felt like she came of age today," Goestenkors said after the game. "She has been playing great defense for us all year long, and we've been really trying to get her to be more aggressive at the offensive end of the floor, and it's tough to do. Down the stretch, she wanted the basketball."
Even so, the defensive end is where Bales makes her mark. She helped hold BC center Kathrin Ress to just 1-for-10 shooting and four points.
Already Bales has broken the ACC single-season blocked shots record, which had stood for nearly 20 years. She single-handedly blocked more shots than all of Duke's opponents combined (she has 130 blocks; Duke's foes have combined for 106). Bales jokingly said earlier this year that she has her teammates to thank for the record since they were the ones getting beat all the time to allow her to swat so many shots.
"I'm trying to keep my opponent from going where she wants to go," Bales said. "I'm also ready to help out if I have to. I'm playing with confidence, getting more playing time and glad to be a bigger part of the team this year."
Beth Mowins is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.