CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—With the talent of Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones in the Duke backcourt, it’s easy to forget about Chloe Wells, especially after she missed the second half of last season and the first part of this one.
The backcourt duo of Gray and Jones has deftly run the offense and provided defensive intensity for the Blue Devils, with Gray emerging as one of the nation’s top point guard and Jones one of the elite freshmen. In an 84-63 win against No. 11 North Carolina at Carmichael Arena, however, it was a much different story.
Gray and Jones combined for 51 minutes on the floor, scoring 16 points, dishing six assists, and turning the ball over 10 times. But foul trouble thrust Wells into the spotlight: Jones fouled out with 2:56 left in the second half and Gray finished the game with four fouls. But the Blue Devils (20-1, 10-0 in the ACC) were propelled by the exceptional play of junior guard Chloe Wells, who started her fourth consecutive game Sunday.
Wells, who scored a career-high 18 points against the Tar Heels (20-3, 8-2), took advantage of opportunities from beyond-the-arc and directed the offense for the Blue Devils in her 31 minutes of action, adding three steals, a rebound and an assist to her stat line. Draining an impressive 6-of-7 three pointers, Wells became the 12th Duke player in program history to hit six or more 3-pointers in a game. It was not only Wells’ shooting performance that impressed head coach Joanne P. McCallie, but also her hustle.
“As much as Chloe hit shots, she was an incredible defender out there for us,” McCallie said. “She was disrupting, causing turnovers, playing both sides of the ball and also trying to run the offense. So that was a lot going on for Chloe.”
It was not only the number of shots that Wells drained that made the difference for Duke, it was when she hit those shots. After North Carolina’s Waltiea Rolle made a layup on an offensive rebound narrowing the Blue Devils’ lead—which had once been as large as 31—to 19, Wells made a 3-pointer with 8:09 left in the game to begin a 7-0 run for Duke that slowed the Tar Heels’ momentum.
Many of Wells’ triples came off of broken plays in which the Duke post player was double- or triple-teamed before passing the ball to open perimeter shooters. Wells took full advantage of opportunities created by mismatches on screens and double-teams.
“I think we stayed focused on the game plan. When we play inside-out, it’s pretty deadly,” Wells said. “We have excellent post down low so I know there’s a lot of attention on [Duke center Elizabeth Williams], and when she gets inside and gets three [defenders] on her, she’s looking for somebody, so I was expecting it.”
In addition to Wells, a number of the Blue Devils’ role players made impacts off the bench. Tricia Liston and Richa Jackson came off the bench and scored a combined 23 points in 36 minutes on the floor. Even with Gray and Jones out of the lineup for chunks of the game, the team responded with Wells leading the charge.
“We have a lot of confidence in this team and every member of it,” McCallie said. “Everybody practices really hard and you just have to be ready for any time, any circumstance, any situation. So if someone does get in foul trouble, somebody else can step up and fill in.”
Wells’ high level of play against North Carolina highlighted the Blue Devils’ depth. As the team progresses further into its ACC schedule, it will need to rely on this depth against other top conference opponents such as No. 10 Maryland and No. 20 Florida State.
“We just try to play to our strengths as much as possible and this team is learning now how good they could be when they play together,” McCallie said. “So I think they’re getting a taste of it in particular in the second half in the game against Miami and the first half today. They’re starting to get that sense of, ‘Okay this is what we got to do and we have to use everybody and its fun to play that way.’”
To Wells, the focus and intensity of the entire team was notable. The attitude each player took to step up when others were having a difficult game contributed to Duke’s success on the court and will be integral to future success this season.
“When we play, we play for each other so I knew, when they went down, I had to have their back,” Wells said. “It didn’t matter if they were bench players or regular players, we just played the same game and we had the same focus.”