Following Thursday night’s contest, there was no doubt that Chelsea Gray is the heart and soul of this Duke basketball team. Going into halftime with a tied score, Gray took over the game in the second half and led what might have been the Blue Devils’ most impressive offensive half of the season.
Duke (19-1, 9-0 in the ACC) was able to do what its male counterpart could not when it handily defeated Miami 82-43, led by Gray who notched 16 points and six steals.
Gray was not the only Blue Devil scoring Thursday night. Five Blue Devils reached double-digits by the end of the game, with Tricia Liston leading all scorers with 17. Sophomore center Elizabeth Williams added 12 of her own, with 11 coming in the second half. Alexis Jones put in her first career double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“The rebounding was huge.... [Jones] is quick as a cat,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She gets in there and gets that ball. That was a helpful thing because at half we weren’t exactly rebounding.”
Unlike other teams that Duke has faced this season, Miami (14-7, 5-4) was able to match the Blue Devils’ size and length thanks to their 6-foot-6 senior center Shawnice Wilson. Wilson’s presence in the paint was an initial problem for Duke, as she held Williams in check for the entirety of the first half.
Miami opened up the first half strongly due to their defensive intensity and physicality, which seemed to frustrate the Blue Devils. They forced Duke to settle continually for fade-away baseline jump shots that would bounce off the rim.
On the offensive end, the Hurricanes found their own success much easier, as they drove to lane early and often, converting on three straight layups off of set plays at one point. The Hurricanes were able to jump out to a quick 8-0 lead behind the 3-point shooting of junior guard Krystal Saunders.
“I thought in the first half that we just caught Duke flat. We had a great performance by Saunders to keep us in it,” Miami head coach Katie Meier said. Liston once again was not in the starting rotation, but came into the contest with 12:13 left in the first half. The insertion of the 3-point specialist forced the Hurricanes to stretch out their defense, opening up the lane for junior forward Haley Peters and Williams.
Williams, however, never found her groove in the contest, shooting zero-for-three from the field and only managing two rebounds in the first half.
Although the offense picked up behind Liston’s quick eight points off the bench, Duke’s defense was still lacking, with the Hurricanes finding success in driving to the lane and knocking down the easy bucket or kicking it to Saunders.
“I didn’t think the first half was necessarily bad, I just think we took too many quick shots and put ourselves in the position where we were running back on defense too many times and our transition defense was a little suspect at times,” McCallie said.
The catalyst for Miami in the first half was Saunders, who led all scorers with 15 first-half points. Saunders shot nothing but 3-pointers, going five-for-seven from downtown.
“It was time for [Saunders] to sort of step up and hit those shots, so it was really exciting,” Meier said.
Chelsea Gray, determined not to be shown up on her home court, answered with a pair of 3-pointers. But aside from her and Liston, the Blue Devils struggled to find success in converting on their opportunities in the first half.
The Blue Devils and Hurricanes entered the locker room at halftime with the score tied at 29 apiece, but it was clear that Duke was not satisfied with its opening half performance. It shot 11-for-28 from the field in the opening half, with many of the missed shots being either forced or routine shots that the Blue Devils should have knocked down.
“We were unhappy at halftime relative to our shot selection, our transition defense and spotting up with a hot shooter,” McCallie said.
Miami opened the second half using the same formula they did in the first—swing the ball around the perimeter while forwards flashed to the block looking for the easy basket. It worked for the first two Hurricane possessions before Gray forced two straight turnovers resulting in easy layups for the Blue Devils. “We have to make one-on-one stops, not let them in the paint and help out when we need to help,” Gray said. “We just have to do what we can out there.”
This quick swing put Duke up 37-33 and the Blue Devils rode the momentum for the remainder of the contest. The turnaround on defense allowed Duke to pull away from Miami.
“It’s just that when push came to shove, Duke decided to shove and we just didn’t shove back,” Meier said.
Gray led the way on defense, collecting six steals, with three of them coming during a 20-0 run in the second half to put Duke up 51-33. From this point on, the lead never dipped below 16.
“Overall we were just being more aggressive and playing off my teammates a little more,” Gray said.
Saunders, who had been red-hot for Miami in the opening half, failed to find her shot in the second half and was held scoreless, ending with her 15 first-half points. She was the only Hurricane to reach double-digits, due to Miami’s poor shooting performance in the second half, in which they went a combined 5-for-30 from the field.
“Our defense [was playing well], especially with [Gray] on the steals that started the fast break,” Liston said. “Once we got one it kind of sparked everyone and then it pretty much kept going from there.”