CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — It was 40 minutes that came down to less than 40 seconds. It was a game marked by fiery players and coaches and emotional responses to calls, especially as the clock ticked down.
When the Blue Devils stepped off the court to prepare for their fourth straight Elite Eight, it was clear that despite the tight, competitive matchup, Duke controlled the game all the way through, mainly because of its dominance on the boards.
But even before Georgia’s Tasha Humphrey tied the game on a layup with three minutes remaining, and all the way until the buzzer sounded, a victory never seemed certain.
You could look at Saturday’s play-by-play—especially the five ties and 10 lead changes—and see the game as a battle. The Blue Devils never led by more than six, and Georgia’s lead never extended beyond four.
The game was in doubt because Duke’s offense struggled to do the simple things like making layups and delivering accurate passes, but the Blue Devils’ defense and rebounding made it seem like they was always in the driver’s seat.
In the first half, Duke shot 32.3 percent from the floor and ended up with 39.3 percent game shooting.
Head coach Gail Goestenkors said she had anticipated rebounding to be the key to a Blue Devil victory over Georgia, and tonight it carried them through.
“We knew that the team that rebounded would win,” Goestenkors said. “I was happy with our effort on the boards.”
Duke dominated on the boards, with 31 defensive rebounds and 45 total in comparison to Georgia’s 32 overall.
“It may have been a very exciting game, but from my perspective, we did a poor job rebounding,” Georgia head coach Andy Landers said. “It wasn’t a game where we were ever able to generate momentum early on because of the turnovers—you have to credit some of that to Duke defensively.”
The Blue Devils’ rebounding made up for some of the team’s misfires, as they used it to solidify early momentum despite missing 12-of-18 first-half layups. Duke had 16 second-chance points to Georgia’s six and scored more than half (36) of its points in the paint. But even when the Blue Devils pulled down rebounds, they frequently botched second-change opportunities.
Monique Currie was not immune to Duke’s struggles as the All-American missed six layups on the afternoon. With less than four minutes remaining and Duke holding a two-point lead, Currie hurried down the court as Mistie Williams set up under the hoop. She then heaved the ball out of bounds on a pass intended for her frontcourt mate. Currie was clearly frustrated with her performance throughout the game, at times expressing this emotion to her teammates and the referees.
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“I struggled to get the ball off. I started looking for my teammates,” Currie said. “In the second half, we did a better job of making cuts to the basket. I think everyone’s emotions were high today.”
The Blue Devils are now 27-0 on the season when outrebounding an opponent. Once Currie got rolling down the stretch, a Williams putback on a Currie miss helped Duke create some separation.
But tonight against LSU, the best team in the nation, Duke will need more than just rebounding to fall into place. If those layups that skipped off the rim Saturday continue to fall by the wayside, so will the Blue Devils.