Duke women's basketball cruises past Wake Forest in ACC quarterfinals
GREENSBORO, N.C.—The Demon Deacons put up a fight behind Dearica Hamby's 26 points, but ultimately, Duke's frontcourt proved to be too big, too strong and too much as the No. 16 team in the nation cruised to the semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils started tournament play strong with a 77-68 win against 13th-seeded Wake Forest in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Friday at the Greensboro Coliseum. Sophomore Kendall Cooper led Duke with a career-high 21 points. Senior Elizabeth Williams, however, stole the show with 11 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and six blocks, and freshman Azura Stevens also contributed a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards. Four Blue Devils finished the day in double figures.
"I was very proud of Kendall [Cooper] in terms of her aggressiveness and coming off the bench and giving us such confidence and such great moves,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Those 16 rebounds from Elizabeth [Williams] were huge. I’m proud of the whole team for the fight out there.”
The Blue Devils (21-9) came out hot from the start. They won the tip and got out to an early lead with a quick layup from Stevens, who was recently named to the all-ACC second team. After a few layups, Duke extended its lead 11-2 after redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell converted a steal into Stevens’ first three of the contest.
Following the trey, senior Amber Henson was escorted to the locker room after seemingly injuring her leg. Just as Henson returned to the court in the eighth minute of the half, Cooper—who entered the game averaging 3.5 points per contest—limped off the court. She also took a quick trip to the locker room before returning to play with seven minutes remaining in the half.
"It was just a minor injury” Cooper said. “I just felt great coming out playing with Elizabeth [Williams], Amber [Henson] and all of our post down low. It feels great to help teammates and get yours at the same time."
Duke had a bit of a lull midway through the half in response to the injuries with its limited depth, but Williams—who received the Kay Yow award as the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year prior to the start of the game—rocked the Demon Deacons (13-20) with a huge and-one to turn the momentum decisively in the Blue Devils’ favor once again. Greenwell followed the play up with a layup of her own and was fouled on the next trip down the court. She made the second free throw to make it 27-14 and put Duke back firmly in control.
“It was just important to be aggressive,” Williams said of her momentum-shifting drive. “The opportunity was there in the high post. I had the driving lane so I just kind of took it myself.”
Greenwell led the Blue Devils with 11 points to close the half. Notably, Williams had 12 rebounds and five blocks despite only notching five points halfway through the game. Cooper also had a significant presence in the post after returning from the locker room, scoring nine points in her ten minutes of play as Duke finished the half leading 36-21.
The Blue Devils began the second half slower than they started the first and Wake Forest took advantage. The Demon Deacons scored an unanswered five points before sharp-shooting Greenwell sank her first basket from beyond the arc of the contest. But Wake Forest freshman Amber Campbell responded with a 3-pointer of her own to give the upset-minded Demon Deacons momentum on the comeback trail.
"[I told the team] we had to slow down on offense and execute," McCallie said. "We had to get some good stops. We went in and out of the game—it wasn't a full 40 minutes for us. We played segments of it very well but it wasn't a continuous effort."
The teams traded points until the 15-minute mark. Campbell sank another three at the shot clock buzzer before Hamby—the leading scorer on the day with 26 points—followed with multiple jumpers to cut Duke’s lead to just five points. With 13:39 remaining, McCallie was forced to call a timeout. Out of the break, the Blue Devils came out looking more like its first-half self and extended the lead back to nine points with 10 minutes left in the game.
Duke held the lead from then on out, trading buckets with Wake Forest but never letting the Demon Deacons cut heavily into its lead. The Blue Devils displayed that they had corrected their issue of closing out games in the final minutes, a difficulty the team struggled with throughout the regular season.
But it wasn't all great good news for Duke despite the win, as the Blue Devils lost the rebounding battle 44-40 and will look to improve in that department as the postseason continues,
“If you own the boards, and you’re aggressive, you basically control the game," McCallie said. "We need to get more people involved and be quicker to box out and quicker to the ball."
Duke will look to upset top-seeded Notre Dame or knock off Miami Saturday in the semifinals of the ACC tournament at noon. The Fighting Irish defeated Duke during the regular season 63-50 and the Blue Devils knocked off the Hurricanes by 15 Jan. 18.