After winning their last contest by 83 points led by their pressure defense, the Blue Devils used more pressure defense to jump on their first SEC opponent of the season early and cruise to an easy victory.
No. 2 Duke defeated Alabama 92-57 Sunday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Balance was the story for the Blue Devils in this one—Duke had five players in double figures and 22 assists on 34 made field goals, and every Blue Devil seemed to have a defensive highlight.
“I think they’re just so big and physical at every position,” Alabama head coach Kristy Curry said. “You look at huddles and it’s amazing to see the size and physicality…. They do a great job changing their defenses [and can] all be on the same page—it’s why they’re so successful.”
Duke (3-0) established their dominance early by forcing the Crimson Tide (0-3) into 26 turnovers and turning them into 37 points. The Blue Devils' pressure defense and halfcourt traps led to the team's offensive execution, highlighted by senior guard Tricia Liston’s hot shooting and sophomore guard Alexis Jones’ aggressiveness in transition.
Liston hit two early 3-pointers while Jones lived in the paint, making a layup to give Duke a 15-4 advantage with 15:36 left in the first half. Liston finished with 20 points and six rebounds and stayed aggressive throughout the game in transition, as did her teammates.
“I think we were moving the ball really well in the first half,” junior forward Elizabeth Williams said. “We were getting stops early. I think we were getting a lot of transition buckets after some quick stops, so I think that really fueled us.”
After getting strong perimeter play early in the game, Duke continued forcing turnovers and started getting Williams and senior Haley Peters involved, building a 28-8 advantage with 11:45 left in the first half after a Peters layup.
Peters had 12 points and eight rebounds in the first half alone, finishing with 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Williams finished with 13 points, five rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils outrebounded Alabama 47-27 en route to 22 second-chance points.
Williams’ activity defensively bothered the Crimson Tide, who frequently could not get their jump shots over her outstretched arm and had trouble getting the ball up the court because of her role in the Duke press.
“It’s just about communicating and being able to protect the basket and be smart,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can force a quick shot and get the rebound and go.”
Although Duke looked crisp on offense for much of the first half, turnovers prevented the Blue Devils from extending their lead and continued for much of the second half—they finished with 21.
“I don’t like turnovers like that,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Twenty-one turnovers…. We’re far too good of a team [to have that many]. We’ve got to clean that up, but Alabama hustled. They never quit and they played hard.”
Duke’s pressure defense and offensive balance was on display again early in the second half and the Blue Devils continued to crash the offensive glass to finally pull away from the Crimson Tide, going ahead 67-36 with 12:29 left in the game after a three-point play by senior guard Richa Jackson.
Jackson put in nine early bench points in the half to spark the Blue Devils’ run that put the game away for good and finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 21 minutes.
“I feel like you learn a lot by sitting on the bench and actually watching, it helps you a lot when you actually get in the game,” Jackson said.
Alabama’s leading scorer, junior point guard Daisha Simmons, was taken out of rhythm by Duke’s active defense and unable to facilitate for the rest of her teammates. Simmons finished with just 10 points and fouled out.
The Crimson Tide are still trying to adjust in their first season under Curry and were crushed by a Duke defense that gathered 15 steals, 10 blocks and took five charges.
Senior guard Chelsea Gray took four of Duke’s charges, tying a school record, and was in facilitator mode for most of the game, finishing with four points, nine assists and four steals. Gray’s defense was stellar, but she seemed out of sorts offensively, committing five turnovers and looking frustrated at times.
Duke will take on Vanderbilt (3-1) Thursday for their second straight home game against an SEC opponent with a chance to continue building their cohesiveness as a unit.“It’s November, [so] we’re all kind of figuring this out together,” McCallie said. “We’re building our depth and we’re finding our roles."