After cruising to five wins against unranked opponents, the No. 4 Blue Devils expected No. 10 California to put them to their first real test.
The Golden Bears did just that, but Duke passed with flying colors in a 77-63 victory, proving that they have the defensive capabilities and offensive weapons to outplay tough opponents.
“We knew coming into the game that they were going to be physical and it was going to be a bloodbath out there,” Duke junior guard Chelsea Gray said. “We just had to focus on rebounding and getting stops when we needed them.”
Duke shows its skills on the glass
The Blue Devils’ focus on rebounding paid off against the Golden Bears, a strong rebounding team. California, which entered the game ranking fifth in the nation in rebounding margin, pulled down 66 boards against its last opponent, Old Dominion, Friday night. Duke outrebounded the Golden Bears 41-37. Twenty-six of the Blue Devils’ rebounds were on the defensive end, preventing the Golden Bears from collecting too many second-chance opportunities.
“We’ve been working towards this,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’ve been having rebounding conversation almost too much. [California] caught our team’s attention a little bit because they realized, ‘Wow, these guys can really rebound the ball.’ We have just got to get that mentality no matter who we play.”
Duke’s success on the glass, in conjunction with its sharp zone defense, was critical in staving off California’s fast-paced offense, especially early in the game. The Blue Devils forced 13 first-half turnovers.
In the end, the Golden Bears shot just 35.9 percent from the field.
“Our inability to make shots in that first half when they went to the zone was a problem,” California head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “Their zone was really lengthy and it bothered us. We didn’t get the looks that we wanted right away.”
‘A complete team’
The other important piece of the puzzle in Sunday’s matchup was Duke’s offensive arsenal. Five Blue Devils scored nine or more points.
“They’re such a complete team,” Gottlieb said. “They showed that when Elizabeth Williams got in some foul trouble, and they were still just as dangerous. What makes Duke really good is that all five players on the court are a threat.”
Junior Tricia Liston, who led Duke with 22 points, elaborated on the benefits of the Blue Devils’ depth. She noted that when the team is healthy, the bench is deep enough to have five substitutes and the combinations that McCallie can come up with can pose matchup nightmares for opponents.
“You can go big or you can go small,” Liston said. “At every position you have a different strength—someone can do something that someone else can’t.”
Second-half defensive woes
Although Duke’s capabilities on both ends of the court were on display Sunday, the Blue Devils’ defensive slide in the second half should not be overlooked. They went from holding the Golden Bears to a 21.9 field-goal percentage in the first half to allowing California to hit 50 percent of its shots in the second half. McCallie attributes Duke’s late defensive struggles to her team getting too complacent with its lead.
“We didn’t play as aggressively,” she said. “We played a little bit to the score too much. We had a lead for a long time. We have to get out of that. We have to really want to make plays on every possession. I think anytime you give up 43 points in the second half you’re not going to go home liking that.”
Duke opens its ACC schedule Thursday against Georgia Tech. The conference is known for its physicality, McCallie said, noting that the Yellow Jackets in particular play a physical brand of basketball. Playing an up-tempo game against a physical Golden Bears squad afforded the Blue Devils a key opportunity to prepare for the matchups on their ACC slate.
“It was a good game for us and great preparation for our game on Thursday [against Georgia Tech],” she said.