CHAPEL HILL — Duke did not look like a No. 1 team Monday night. In fact, in the first half it hardly looked like a team deserving of a top-25 ranking.
Playing against archrival North Carolina in a pumped up Smith Center, the Blue Devils started the game without any energy or enthusiasm.
“I mean, it’s awful to say that they had more hustle than us, but I thought they really did in the first half,” junior Jessica Foley said. “Balls were bouncing off our legs. We just weren’t grabbing ahold of the ball and really asserting ourselves on the boards—so they really did have more hustle than us in the first half.”
The Blue Devils shot an abysmal 5-for-30 in possibly one of the ugliest 20 minutes of basketball a No. 1 team has ever played. Duke scored a measly 13 points in the half—the team’s lowest output since Jan. 30, 2000.
Although credit has to go to the North Carolina defense, Duke’s lack of intensity in a game of such magnitude is inexcusable. Head coach Gail Goestenkors said her team lacked aggression and faced a tougher team Monday night.
Top-ranked squads are expected to excel at the intangibles. Instead, North Carolina players were the first to sacrifice their bodies as they dove to the court for loose balls. Nikita Bell led the Tar Heels with five of the team’s 18 steals, and UNC seemed to deflect almost every other pass.
“I thought their pressure really bothered us, their traps really bothered us and we didn’t do a good job adjusting,” Goestenkors said. “I give all the credit in the world to their defense. It was the most pressure we’ve seen all year and their traps were very effective.”
Freshman Wanisha Smith had the worst game of her collegiate career, and her ineffectiveness exposed the Blue Devils’ weakness at the point guard position. She was held scoreless and turned the ball over eight times, including on three consecutive trips down the court in the closing minutes of the first half.
Throughout the first 20 minutes, Duke also showed no commitment to rebounding. North Carolina grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 13 points—equaling the halftime margin.
“If you come out and play tentative in a game like this, you get back on your heels and you can’t play that way,” Goestenkors said. “You’re not going to be effective.”
Although Duke’s 23.3 field goal percentage nearly equaled its 23 turnovers, Monique Currie provided the lone bright spot for the Blue Devils in the final 10 minutes of the game. She showed the type of heart and intensity that Duke needed from the beginning. With the ball in her hands, she took the game over when no other Blue Devil seemed to want to and gave Duke the chance to tie the game with free throws in the final minute.
“I knew we had to play with a sense of urgency then,” Currie said. “We couldn’t be tentative at all, we were trying to come back. I guess I was just trying to get the best shot I could get, and get aggressive and get more involved in the game.”
The Blue Devils have averaged almost 50 percent shooting thus far this season, and their sluggish offensive performance in Chapel Hill was uncharacteristic. The team’s passes were lazy and the starting post players combined for just one field goal. The players further embarrassed themselves in the second half when Foley dribbled the ball off of Bales’ foot and out-of-bounds while bringing it up the court during the second half.
The Blue Devils are going to make mistakes, are going to lose games and are going to face more talented competition—but Duke should never be out-hustled.
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