For a moment, Duke’s 18-year winning streak against the Cavaliers hung in balance. 

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils and graduate student Lexie Brown could not find any offensive rhythm against a stout Virginia defense, trailing the Cavaliers by as many as 11 points in the first half. But Duke overcame Virginia’s impressive 10-for-25 outing from beyond the arc, winning 55-48 in a contest that featured two of the ACC's best 3-point shooting teams at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

After scoring a season-high 34 points against N.C. State and a team-high 27 points against Wake Forest, Brown did not make a shot from the field until less than two minutes remained in the third quarter. That marked only the second time all season the Suwanee, Ga., native has been held scoreless in the first half, the other coming in a close 66-60 defeat to an undefeated Louisville team. Brown shot just 3-of-13 from the field, but still led the team with 14 points and helped the Blue Devils significantly on the defensive end.

"We started out flat," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I would call [a 13-2 deficit] a really flat start, that was terrible. I’m sorry about that, that you had to watch that. But I think that in talking about it, the energy in the defense, the way the team picked it up—that’s important to us. You’ve got to be able to dictate a game from the defensive side of the ball. If you can do it both on offense and on defense, you’re going to be really, really good. Today was a day where we dictated with defense, and offensively, not as great."

Duke’s defensive pressure forced the Cavaliers (12-7, 5-1 in the ACC) into making a host of offensive errors, turning the ball over 19 times. With 32 seconds remaining and Duke’s lead at just three, Brown intercepted a pass from Aliyah Huland El above the 3-point line, racing down the court before getting fouled. Her two free throws extended Duke’s lead to five and ensured that the Blue Devils (14-4, 3-2) would be above .500 in conference play for the first time this season, coming out on top in a back-and-forth contest that featured six ties and seven lead changes.   

"The whole game, we had to focus on defense," senior Erin Mathias said. "And that final minute, our entire focus was defense. Get stops, get rebounds, box out and don’t let them get second-chance opportunities and secure the ball. That’s what we did down in that stretch, so we’re proud of that."

Brown was not the only player to struggle offensively from the floor, as Duke’s 24 first-half points were its lowest of the season. Both graduate student Rebecca Greenwell and redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki were unable to find consistent success from the floor, and the trio of Brown, Greenwell and Gorecki—the team’s three leading scorers with a combined 44.2 points per game—combined for only 29 points on 8-for-27 shooting. 

Virginia, which shot significantly better from the floor than the Blue Devils, was hampered by fierce defensive pressure throughout the game from the conference’s top defense. Brown and Greenwell led the way with six and three steals, respectively. 

Against a tall Virginia lineup, Duke started 6-foot-5 freshman Jade Williams to guard the Cavaliers’ 6-foot-9 Felicia Aiyeotan. The Blue Devils have been plagued by foul trouble throughout the season, and a matchup with the conference’s second-tallest team presented a challenge down low. 

Despite that, Duke stayed remarkably disciplined, committing only 10 fouls, almost half of which came in the final five minutes. The Blue Devils’ discipline kept Virginia away from the foul line—the Cavaliers did not attempt a free throw all game, while Duke shot 16-of-21 from the charity stripe.

"That was impressive," Brown said. "We didn’t even realize that until the game was over. We just had a conversation. Some of us were in foul trouble last game, and we just wanted to prevent that from happening this game. They don’t really drive to the basket that much, so when they did, we kind of let them do their thing and not bail them out."

The Blue Devils will hit the road again for their next matchup Thursday night at Virginia Tech looking to extend their three-game winning streak. 

"This was a great blue-collar game," McCallie said. "It reminded me of an ACC tournament game, how they get so physical, so hard to score and do the things you want to. I was proud of our team for gutting it out and for doing some really key things down the stretch to make some things happen."