Junior Chloe Wells was “the catalyst and instigator of a lot of instigation” against Oklahoma State, Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
Sophia Durand / Chronicle File Photo
Junior Chloe Wells was “the catalyst and instigator of a lot of instigation” against Oklahoma State, Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

After missing last year’s NCAA tournament due to suspension, Blue Devil junior Chloe Wells came out to make the best of another shot at an NCAA title. When Duke trailed Oklahoma State by 13 at the half, Wells took it upon herself to step up and make a change. She did not want to see another season cut short; rather, she wanted to take care of the Cowgirls in order to advance to the Sweet 16 in Norfolk, Va.

“Chloe [Wells had] a game-changing performance in all ways,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She worked so hard on defense. I think at one point she stalled them and they stopped moving and there were a couple turnovers and things of that nature. I really thought Chloe was the engine to making it go.”

Despite scoring just three points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half, Wells exploded in the second half, shooting 4-of-8 from the floor and scoring 10 points. Wells also provided the Blue Devils with a spark of energy and hustle that rallied her teammates and propelled them to a comeback win.

“I’m really proud of Chloe in particular because she was the catalyst and instigator of a lot of anticipation, which the team was able to feed off of,” McCallie said.

When asked about the sluggish, uncharacteristic start her team had in the first half and the much improved second half, junior forward Haley Peters praised Wells’ instigative role in the turn of events for the Blue Devils.

“We went away from things that we normally do very well and didn’t play together as well as we could,” Peters said. “The focus really shifted to defense. We are a talented team, and when we play defense we are very good.... I thought Chloe was just as important, if not more, than I was in that regard.”

Wells nearly tripled her scoring average in the game against the Cowgirls. Prior to the game, the junior was averaging about five points per game on the season. Wells also saw much more action on both sides of the ball Tuesday night. Prior to this second-round game against Oklahoma State in which Wells played 25 minutes, she had been averaging 19.6 minutes per game. When freshman guard Alexis Jones got into foul trouble midway through the second half, Wells was forced into playing extra minutes.

After watching the game from the bench for the first few minutes of play, Wells was able to get a grasp on the changes Duke needed to make to come back against the Cowgirls. When she entered the game, Wells went in levelheaded and with a new perspective on her team’s play.

“I was thinking that we had to reverse the ball,” Wells said. “We usually shoot well when everybody gets a touch on the court. I think that we didn’t really have it in our minds to press to score, we just relaxed and waited for the right shot.” McCallie said she was inspired by Wells’ contributions off the bench and continued to encourage her confident play.

“[McCallie] told me to keep going and to get a breather when I needed it,” Wells said. “I was playing so hard I was tired. She told me to keep playing hard and the shots will eventually fall. She also told me to keep fighting on defense.”

The Blue Devils head up to Virginia this weekend to take on Nebraska in the round of 16. Another “sweet” performance from Wells will bode extremely well for Duke. With junior point guard Chelsea Gray out of the lineup with a knee injury, Duke will look to Wells to fill the void left by the one of team’s leading scorers as the Blue Devils delve further into the tournament.

“Our performance today is a testament to all that we’ve been through as a team,” Wells said. “Chelsea [Gray] has been hurt, I have been hurt, Richa [Jackson] as well. We just know how to fight as a team. When we go down everybody is still on the same page and I think [Tuesday] we showed that more than anything. Being here is the opportunity of a lifetime that I didn’t have last year so I feel really good.”