They say the NCAA tournament is all about matchups.
Duke ran into a bad one Monday evening, as seventh-seeded DePaul used constant defensive pressure to stun the second-seeded Blue Devils 74-65 at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Blue Demons—who rank second in the nation in steals with 11.7 thefts per game—were able to speed up the Blue Devils from the opening tip, forcing 21 turnovers and several rushed shots. Playing without a true point guard, the Blue Devils never looked comfortable in what became their season finale.
“We knew our pressure package would beat them, and it did,” DePaul guard Megan Rogowski said. “We’ve been practicing since July and August in summer school with this pressure package, and we put it into effect tonight.”
DePaul converted Duke’s miscues into points beyond the arc, using crisp ball movement to knock down 14 3-pointers. Rogowski—who shoots 45.7 percent from beyond the arc—point guard Brittany Hrynko and Megan Podkowa accounted for all of the treys and missed just nine attempts from deep.
After Duke (28-7) took the lead for the first time with 18:11 left, the Blue Devils gave Podkowa and Rogowski too much space, allowing each to calmly canning a deep 3-pointer to spark an 8-0 DePaul run that gave the Blue Demons (29-6) the lead for good.
Duke's zone defense was ill-equipped to contest DePaul’s shots from well beyond the 3-point line.
“I don’t think their performance was surprising, but our team couldn’t even simulate that in practice,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “How can you simulate that without any guards? That’s definitely their game, and they’re good at that game. It was too bad. A few more [plays] here and there and it could have been different.”
DePaul’s hot shooting fueled its pressure defense. Each time the Blue Demons knocked down a trey, they were able to set up aggressive traps in the backcourt that forced Duke ball-handlers Tricia Liston and Ka’lia Johnson to cough it up 12 times.
The Blue Devils had advantageous fast-break opportunities every time they broke the press, but were unable to convert their chances into points. Duke missed several easy opportunities in the paint and went just 9-of-19 from the free throw line.
The Blue Devils also turned it over even after they advanced the ball into the frontcourt, facilitating DePaul’s 13-2 advantage in fast-break points. The Blue Demons had no problem firing away from long range even when they had the option of venturing inside on the break, and their bold strategy paid off.
“[Head coach Doug Bruno] doesn’t mind us shooting when we’re open—we have the greenest green light,” Hrykno said. “He doesn’t mind us taking threes, as long as we defend and rebound.”
Duke’s 40-16 edge in points in the paint was misleading because of the inefficiency of the Blue Devil attack. Duke assisted on just 11 of its 27 made baskets, while DePaul accumulated 19 helpers on its 24 made shots.
“There’s no doubt that they had very good pressure,” head McCallie said. “I think we really had issues [creating] off the bounce, but you have to give credit to their pressure. We just weren’t able to handle it well. We needed to get that ball inside more than we did.”
When the Blue Devils needed to respond to a Blue Demon run, they were frequently stymied by DePaul’s pressure defense. By contrast, the Blue Demons were able to swing the ball from side to side with ease and take the shot they wanted to.
Hrynko—who had six assists—was especially disruptive against Duke’s defense, darting into the lane at will and kicking the ball out for open looks.
Duke’s post players knew that contesting shots would be key against the third-highest scoring team in the nation, but were overwhelmed by the Blue Demons’ spacing and shot-making.
“I think we needed to do a better job of making in-game adjustments and closing out a lot harder on the shooters,” Duke junior center Elizabeth Williams—who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks—said. “I [also] take responsibility, especially if we are playing a zone because I have to move just as much as the guards and communicate just as much.”
The Blue Devils could have been more assertive contesting shots, but many of DePaul’s makes were simply the result of Duke running into the wrong team at the wrong time.
Short on guards, the Blue Devils had little chance of shutting down a team on fire from the perimeter.
“Every day in practice, we do a drill called long toss, and it’s shooting from 30 feet,” Rogowski said. “We’re trained to do it—we practice it every day. [Bruno] lets us shoot as long as we’re open. We make them.”