The #7 Duke Blue Devils (10-2) kicked off their ACC schedule of play with a 77-66 win over the Virginia Cavaliers (12-3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. on Monday night, marking their 31st consecutive win at home and continuing a school record.
The Blue Devils shot 56% from the field in beating the Cavaliers for the 19th straight time as guard Tricia Liston led the Blue Devils in scoring by putting up 18 points and collecting a career-high seven rebounds while forward Haley Peters added 13 points, 3 rebounds and a career-high four steals of her own.
Guard Chelsea Gray scored 11 points and added eight assists to maintain her ACC-leading assist average and forward Elizabeth Williams finished with eight points, seven rebounds, four blocks and one steal in just 24 minutes of play.
Duke’s play was highlighted with aggressive defensive coverage and effective passing during the second half of the game that finally broke Virginia’s zone coverage down and allowed the Blue Devils to extend their lead by as much as 15 points at one point, and denied the Cavaliers any opportunity of attempting a comeback.
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was pleased with her team’s effort in the first of four games that it will play over the next nine days.
“I really liked our team’s attack,” McCallie said.
“Shooting 56 percent against an ACC opponent is pretty outstanding, and we might have been able to put a whole lot more points on the board if, in fact, we didn’t turn the ball over so much. That’s something that we’re going to have to work on as a team a little bit, are the turnovers. But offensively, I thought we were very aggressive, very attacking, and I love to see that from the team.”
McCallie pointed out the team’s lack of quickness in ball movement early on was due to concentrating on moving from sideline-to-sideline rather than attacking the high post and middle of the court which slowed down their offensive production.
“We didn’t come out of the gates attacking in the speed at which we wanted to,” McCallie continued. ”I think that sort of gave us a little bit of a slump.”
Defensive battle from the tip
The Cavaliers knew what they were up against in facing the Blue Devils’ high-energy offense and put forth a tremendous defensive effort early on that created numerous turnovers and caused Duke to take most of the first half to find its offensive rhythm.
The Cavaliers’ defense caught Duke off guard many times but not to a point that McCallie seemed concerned as she directed the team to adjust accordingly.
“In some respects it was very good, meaning obviously we turned the ball over too many times,” McCallie pointed out. “But in other respects, we got a lot of great looks – the 56 percent. Again, if we had handled that ball better, not turned it over and had more possessions – we only shot the ball 48 times. Usually we’re going to shoot it a few more times than that.”
The teams battled back and forth throughout the first half as they scored a combined 29 points from turnovers with Duke holding a narrow 35-32 lead to begin the second half.
Picking up the tempo
Once they returned to the floor, Duke started to take full control of the game and never looked back as Peters and Williams extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 39-33 within the first 90 seconds of play.
By establishing its defensive coverage to include a full-court press, the Blue Devils shut down the Cavaliers’ offense and caused numerous turnovers to take advantage of the resultant scoring opportunities in transition.
According to Liston, Duke countered what Virginia expected them to do.
“The game plan was just to attack – get in the gaps,” Liston said.
“In a zone, you tend to sit back, shoot outside shots. That’s what they want you to do. We really tried to get it inside, then look outside, back inside, hit the gaps and then we were getting open from there.”
As the Blue Devils broke down the Cavaliers’ defense, the scoring opportunities increased as Williams tallied all of her points during the early part of the second half after being shut out by the Cavaliers defense during the first half.
“I think we were finding people in open positions,” Liston continued. “We were pushing it, looking for the fast-break points and we were getting that. Once we started getting in the flow, everything started clicking, we were hitting shots, we were getting open looks and we were getting stops on defense that kind of pushed into our offense.”
Virginia coach and former Duke player and assistant coach Joanne Boyle concurred with Duke’s strategy to break the effectiveness of her team’s defense during the second half.
“I want to say they made some adjustments in the zone, because we had to get out of our zone,” Boyle said. “We’ve been pretty effective in that, but we weren’t moving on the flight of the ball. We let them see too much and they picked us apart. They did a good job and forced us out of it.”
Assuming their roles
Although Gray and Williams have both earned ACC weekly honors so far this season as Duke’s ‘players to watch’, the recent contributions of Liston and Peters during recent games will create more match-up problems for upcoming opponents to consider.
In addition to Liston’s increased point production and second consecutive game as the team’s scoring leader, Peters posted double-digit point totals for the seventh time this season and was the recipient of numerous passes from Gray including a few no-look helpers that had the crowd buzzing.
With increased scoring depth and chemistry developing amongst its starters, Duke’s bench strength has steadily provided additional scoring in each game and included 15 points against the Cavaliers as Kathleen Scheer (7pts), Ka’lia Johnson (3 pts) and Shay Selby (5 pts), who returned to the lineup after missing six games, all contributed to the winning effort.
Continuing to get better
McCallie understands what her young team is accomplishing after playing each game – overachieving in some sense.
However, she points out that the challenge and reward that her players are getting in working hard to get better is why they came to Duke.
“This team is approaching dangerous – every game,” McCallie said with a laugh. “But in the same sense, we’ve got a lot of work to do daily to keep getting better, so it’s a fun and exciting work in progress.”
The Blue Devils will continue to put their endurance and conditioning to the test in conference play as they travel to Wake Forest to take on the Demon Deacons on Friday before returning back home to host the NC State Wolfpack on Sunday.
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