Seventh-seeded DePaul pulled off the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament thus far, ending Duke's run of four straight Elite Eight appearances.
The Blue Demons overpowered the Blue Devils, taking down second-seeded Duke 74-65 Monday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
With an impressive 9-of-16 shooting performance from beyond the arc in the second half, DePaul pulled away and secured the upset. Together the trio of sophomore forward Megan Podkowa, junior guard Brittany Hrynko and junior guard Megan Rogowski scored 54 of the Blue Demons’ 74 points and seemed to knock down clutch jumpers whenever the Blue Devils threatened to close the gap.
“You have to give them credit,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I’m not sure that [Hrynko] is going to hit those shots again. There were three of them from about 30 feet. I think that was hard for our kids. It was hard to extend and attack her when she was so far out.”
The Blue Demons (29-6) sprinted out of the gate full of energy and ready to play, applying full-court pressure to Duke (28-7) and building a quick 8-3 lead in the opening minutes. The Blue Devils were unable to get into an offensive rhythm against DePaul’s swarming defense, committing 13 turnovers in the first half and knocking down just two field goals in the first ten minutes of play. Duke was able to escape the full-court press without too much difficulty, but made several careless passes in its half-court offense that were deflected and found their way into the active hands of Blue Demon defenders.
The Blue Devils seemed to be on their heels for most of the game, unable to slow the action down to a pace that suited them. Instead, Duke was forced to play an up-tempo style that favored DePaul and made the lack of a true point guard even more glaring. The Blue Devils’ lack of a steady floor general to stabilize the offense led them to commit 21 turnovers overall, which the opportunistic Blue Demons converted into 19 points.
“I think they were very aggressive defensively,” senior forward Haley Peters said. “They were really on top of our ball handlers and we didn’t handle it very well. I don’t know that it was the 3-point line per se—we just got a little bit rattled with how aggressive [they were] and how much pressure they put on us.”
The Blue Demons built the lead up to 25-12 late in the first half, but the Blue Devils responded with a 12-2 run—keyed by six points from junior forward Elizabeth Williams—to cut the deficit to just three heading into the locker room. Williams was active on both ends of the floor and on the glass throughout the game, recording seven emphatic blocks to go along with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Duke continued its strong play in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring two quick buckets to earn a slim 28-27 advantage—its first and only lead of the game. DePaul responded quickly with an 8-0 run to keep the Blue Devils at bay and bring their lead back up to eight. The Blue Demons controlled the game the rest of the way, never letting the lead get down to less than three.
In the second half, DePaul shook off its early shooting woes—it had shot just 30 percent in the opening period—and began to knock down perimeter shots. Podkowa, Hrynko and Rogowski combined to knock down 14-of-23 3-pointers—including several from well behind the arc—that proved to be back-breakers for Duke.
“Just a great basketball game,” an emotional McCallie said. “DePaul is a [great] shooting team. They shot really well from 3-point [range], especially in the second half.”
For the four Duke seniors—Peters, Tricia Liston, Richa Jackson and injured guard Chelsea Gray—it was a untimely ending to a decorated run of success. The quartet led the program to one of the winningest periods in school history, including three consecutive Elite Eight appearances prior to this season.
“All of us have been through so much together,” a choked-up Peters said. “We are such a close group. We’ve won two ACC tournaments, three ACC regular-season titles I think. I can’t think of any three other people I’d rather have spent my four years with.”