If defense wins championships, then head coach Joanne P. McCallie and the No. 4 Blue Devils should have a lot to look forward to this season.
Duke held No. 10 California to 20 first half points and outrebounded a physical Golden Bear team, easily notching a 77-63 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday afternoon.
“We knew coming into the game that they were going to be physical and it was going to be a bloodbath out there,” junior guard Chelsea Gray said.
The game actually opened in California’s favor, leading 13-10 with just over 14 minutes remaining in the half. That would be the last time the Golden Bears had the lead, however. After a layup by senior center Talia Caldwell pulled the Golden Bears within five with eight minutes left, the Blue Devils (6-0) went on a 10-0 run, putting the game in their control for the remainder of the contest.
The Golden Bears (6-1), led by head coach Lindsay Gottlieb, shot an underwhelming 21.9 percent from the field in the first half, mostly thanks to a swarming Blue Devil defense that produced 13 turnovers and five steals in the opening half.
“We started off pretty hot, and they were hot. And then we missed a couple shots and that made us tighten up,” Gottlieb said.
Sophomore center Elizabeth Williams, who is still recovering from a stress fracture in her left leg, set the defensive tone early, registering two blocks in only six minutes of playing time in the first half. She finished the game with four blocks, as well as 12 points and five rebounds.
Williams, however, was used sparingly in the first half due to foul trouble, making way for senior center Allison Vernerey to come off the bench, and she put forth a six-point, seven-rebound effort.
The rest of the game belonged to Tricia Liston and the Blue Devils’ zone defense. Frustrating the Golden Bears constantly, Duke mixed between a full-court and half-court press, falling back into a zone that was bolstered by Gray and Williams, who combined for six blocks and four steals.
“I thought [Duke] did a nice job of spreading out our guard play and yet still collapsing on our post,” Gottlieb said.
Although Gray struggled from the field, she made her presence felt on defense by grabbing eight rebounds, tying with Liston to lead the team. On the offensive side of the court, Gray and Liston ran the drive-and-kick to perfection, with Liston knocking down 9-of-16 shots, including two 3-pointers.
“It helps a lot when you have someone like Chelsea on the floor,” Liston said. Many expected the Golden Bears to come in and outrebound the Blue Devils, as California was coming off a school-record 66-rebound effort against Old Dominion. Duke did not let California best them on the boards though, outrebounding the Golden Bears 41-37 through an all-around team effort—five players recorded at least five rebounds.
“I think we rebounded better because we knew they could too,” McCallie said. “What we’ve got to do is rebound great no matter who we play.”
One thing that lived up to the hype was the high-profile point guard matchup of Gray and California’s Brittany Boyd. Boyd had a relatively quiet first half with only eight points, but exploded in the second half for 20, leading all scorers with 28. The total may have been higher, but Boyd was forced to sit out part of the second half due to foul trouble.
“I was just taking what they were giving me,” Boyd said.
For the majority of the second half, the Blue Devils maintained a 17-point lead, trading baskets with the Golden Bears, who shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, as well as 80 percent from behind the arc. California mounted somewhat of a comeback in the final seven minutes, getting within 10 several times, mostly thanks to layups from Boyd.
“I like how our team responded in the second half. We played a little bit more of our brand of basketball,” Gottlieb said. “Of course, against a team like Duke, you can’t put yourself in that kind of hole because they’re so good.”
This game also featured junior guard Chloe Wells’ return to the court, after nearly a year’s absence following a suspension from the University last spring and an injury to begin this season. Wells only played four minutes, but was welcomed with a standing ovation from the crowd.
Sunday’s contest should serve as a reassuring note for the Blue Devils, who open ACC play this week as they face Georgia Tech (3-3) this Thursday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.