New season—same result. The Blue Devils were unable to put together two solid halves against the mighty Huskies.
No. 2 Duke fell 83-61 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the Jimmy V Classic to No. 1 Connecticut and was unable to overcome a huge first-half deficit—the Blue Devils have now lost to the Huskies by a double digits in each of head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s seven seasons.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do defensively,” McCallie said. “We didn’t rebound the way we needed to do rebound and we showed little patience on offense at critical times. That cost us.”
The Huskies were led by sophomore forward Breanna Stewart, who set an early tone with her aggressiveness and versatility and finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Led by stifling defense and Stewart’s play, the Huskies went on a game-defining 26-4 run and built a 23-point lead with 4:57 left in the first half, one they would never relinquish.
“Horrible shot selection [fueled the run],” McCallie said. “Chucking up shots, and them then converting and us not getting back on defense [hurt us]. We started the game attacking and being patient, and we broke out of that. That’s a very bad mistake to make…. We fueled their transition. That’s disturbing.”
The Blue Devils did not go quietly, though, closing the first half on a 11-3 run helped by a tremendous crowd and the energy of senior Chelsea Gray—who led Duke with 13 points—to go into the locker room down 41-26 with momentum on their side.
Duke fought hard the rest of the game, getting within 13 with less than eight minutes to play, but was ultimately done in by their poor early shooting—the Blue Devils shot 31 percent in the first half—and execution on both ends of the court in crucial situations.
The biggest difference in the game was the efficiency of each team’s forwards, as Duke’s Tricia Liston, Haley Peters and Elizabeth Williams combined for 30 points on 14-of-36 shooting and Connecticut’s Stewart, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis combined for 59 points on 21-of-38 shooting. Thanks to the play of their front line, the Huskies scored 20 second-chance points to Duke's four. Connecticut also benefitted from crisp ball movement—25 of the team's 30 made field goals were assisted.
“I thought Stephanie and Kaleena responded [to Duke’s runs] like All-Americans when they needed to,” Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Breanna tells me every day she’s an All-American…. We’ve got three players that are very unique…. This team is a really good passing team.”
Mosqueda-Lewis, returning from an elbow injury for her first game in a month, canned seven 3-pointers, many of which quieted the crowd and took the wind out of Duke’s sails and extending Connecticut’s lead late in the game. All 21 of her points came from beyond the arc, including a dagger from deep that prevented the Blue Devils from getting the lead below 10 in the second half.
“It’s just [about] communicating,” Peters said. “And knowing [with] a player that good, you have to know where she is every time she’s on the floor, and getting out to the corners and having a team focus…. It’s pretty simple—you just know where [she is], be there then, and get in [her face].”
Furthering the Huskie advantage with key plays was Dolson, a 6-foot-5 center who frequently fueled Connecticut’s scores with on-point passes from the high-post and low-block positions. The All-American played a game-high 38 minutes and was also instrumental in holding Williams to 4-of-13 from the floor and forcing four turnovers.
Williams frequently took wide-open jump shots with her renovated shooting stroke, but was unable to convert—her frustration seemed to affect her defense. The normally aggressive shot-blocker came up with just one on Tuesday and committed zero personal fouls. Duke’s number of free throw attempts—five—also reflected a lack of aggressiveness that spread throughout the whole team.
“Five free throw attempts—my god, that’s an embarrassment,” McCallie said. “How do you shoot five free throws in a game? We needed to be attacking, driving and creating. We didn’t do that.”
Duke forced many of the Huskies’ 14 turnovers with more active zone defenses, but Connecticut frequently scored before the Blue Devils defense was set and got key contributions from role players like sophomore guard Moriah Jefferson, who outplayed Duke’s Alexis Jones and finished with nine points and seven assists.
“[Moriah] played great,” Auriemma said. “This was one of the best games she’s played since she’s been at Connecticut. The way she controlled our offense and how her composure fed off everyone else’s [was huge].”
The Blue Devils will return to the court on Thursday for a matchup against Albany (8-1) and will look to improve their consistency before a showdown at No. 5 Kentucky (11-0) Sunday. Duke knows that how this game will be remembered is based on whether or not the team is able to improve in the areas that continue to plague them.
“It’s disappointing to have all those people come out and not play the way we can play,” Peters said. “It’s disappointing because we still haven’t done it all year.”