For the second time this season, the Blue Devils have to look themselves in the mirror after a decisive defeat to a top opponent at home.
No. 3 Duke fell to No. 2 Notre Dame 88-67 Sunday in a rematch of last year’s Elite Eight contest. Duke’s only other defeat this season came at the hands of a top-ranked Connecticut squad, which beat the Blue Devils 83-61 in December.
“We have to look at ourselves and look at each other and move forward,” senior guard Tricia Liston said. “Not that we wanted this, but we’re going to learn from this and we’re going to move forward from this and be a lot stronger moving forward.”
The loss marks the first time that the Blue Devils have dropped a conference game at home since they were knocked off by North Carolina in March 2008—a streak that spanned 42 games and nearly six years.
The matchup featured the nation's top two shooting offenses, but only the Fighting Irish lived up to their reputation as an offensive juggernaut. Both Duke (21-2, 8-1 in the ACC) and Notre Dame (21-0, 8-0) came into the game shooting right around 51 percent from the field. But the disparity in the contest—61.8 percent shooting for the Fighting Irish compared to just 39.1 percent for the Blue Devils—was huge.
“We just really played well offensively,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “We shot the ball well—61 percent from the field—that’s pretty amazing against a team as good as Duke and as good defensively as they are.”
The Fighting Irish were in an offensive groove from the outset, knocking down 10 of their first 16 shots and building an early five-point advantage that they extended to 10 by the end of the first half. Senior forward Kayla McBride hit her first five attempts from the field en route to 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds and five assists. The Blue Devils missed their first seven attempts from the field and continued to struggle the rest of the way, as they trailed for the entire 40 minutes.
“From our standpoint, we didn’t shoot the ball well,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We didn’t really move the ball. Everybody tried to do a little bit too much on their own, and that’s not a good recipe.”
Junior Elizabeth Williams had a noticeably quiet day, spending a lot of time on the bench due to foul trouble and finishing without a field goal. Notre Dame took advantage of her absence, racking up 40 points in the paint and outrebounding Duke by a margin of 41-30. Williams’ counterpart, senior forward Natalie Achonwa, had a productive day, finishing with 15 points on just nine shots and nine rebounds.
“Given our scenario [with Chloe Wells and Chelsea Gray out], everyone needs to play their role to the fullest,” McCallie said. “That does not include [Elizabeth] getting fouls and sitting. That was very disappointing.”
The Irish beat the Blue Devils at their own game in terms of getting out in transition and playing at a quick tempo. Transition points are always a key focus for McCallie, but it was Notre Dame that took advantage of missed shots and turned them into easy buckets. Despite forcing 22 turnovers—including a school-record tying 10 steals from point guard Alexis Jones—Duke still was unable to push the pace the way it normally likes to, as Notre Dame enjoyed a 15-point advantage in fastbreak points.
“When you give up 40 points in transition offense, that’s a bit of a problem,” McCallie said. “That’s a very good lesson for us as a team to try and be more immediate in transition.”
The Blue Devils looked as if they were starting to turn things around at the start of the second half, feeding off the crowd inside Cameron Indoor Stadium to go on a 5-0 run and cut the deficit to just five. Notre Dame refused to crumble, remaining poised and continuing to take advantage of sloppy offensive play by Duke. Sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey hit a clutch 3-pointer to spark a 9-0 run after the Blue Devils had cut the lead to seven. With less than 12 minutes left, the Irish held a commanding 62-46 lead and were able to coast the rest of the way.
“What I remember most was [Mabrey] hitting a huge shot where we needed a shot,” Liston said. “It was like a dagger, a three when we had just cut it under 10.”
Despite the tough loss, Duke will have a chance to redeem themselves soon enough. The Blue Devils travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame again in just three weeks—and they know they have a lot of improvements to make before then.
“We have to take what happened in this game and move forward,” Liston said. “We can’t just have film, watch it, see the mistakes and then go back to making the same mistakes that we made [today].”