With Monique Currie suffering through an off game in which she only managed two points and had five turnovers, Duke needed another player to step up.
Senior Mistie Williams came to the rescue, contributing an all-around performance to pull Duke out of a rut and past lowly Virginia.
In 27 minutes, Williams converted 8-of-9 field goal attempts for an extremely efficient 16 points. The senior was even more accurate than her usual 65 percent from the floor, which is second best in the ACC.
As is her style, Williams' stellar game was not the result of flashy play in the post, but it was a product of consistent hustle and court-awareness.
Early in the second half, the Blue Devils were struggling, and the Cavaliers had cut Duke's 12-point halftime lead to six.
After a Duke timeout, sophomore forward Chante Black pulled down the defensive rebound off a Virginia miss and kicked the ball out to a streaking Lindsey Harding.
Williams had hurried down the floor in transition and firmly established herself on the right block. With a defender on her back, Williams opened up to give Harding a solid target.
Harding fed the ball inside to Williams, who faked a spin to the right, and with her defender off-balance, turned back to the left for an open layup to put the Blue Devils up 43-35.
The sequence was not fancy, but it was employed numerous times by the Blue Devils throughout the game, reflecting head coach Gail Goestenkors' game plan.
"We wanted to establish ourselves inside," Goestenkors said. "Throughout most of the game, we felt that we had really good position inside, and they were having a tough time defending us, so we continued to attack."
Even though Williams' scored consistently in the post, her play stretched beyond her ability to put points on the board. The forward pulled down eight rebounds, including four on the offensive end. Responding to Williams' dominance down low, the Cavaliers began to double-team her consistently.
Instead of forcing up awkward shots while facing the pressure of two defenders, Williams used her basketball instincts to find open teammates, whether it was Black on the opposite block or Harding outside for the open shot. The senior tallied three assists, and the defensive attention she attracted helped the Blue Devils shoot an impressive 58 percent for the game.
"We rely on Mistie and count on her to play at a certain level," Goestenkors said. "I thought when the team wasn't playing particularly hard, she helped to rally us, and get after it on both ends of the floor."
The senior's leadership should be a point of reference for Black and junior forward Alison Bales.
Even though Black was aggressive on the boards, she was sometimes erratic down low on the offensive end, leading to turnovers. Bales, on the other hand, lacked aggressiveness and was sometimes reluctant to look for her shot whenever she felt pressure.
Williams' play in recent games is a sign that the senior is finding her rhythm at just the right time before ACC and NCAA Tournament play begins. She has scored 16 points and grabbed at least seven rebounds in each of her last three games, surpassing her season averages of 11.6 points and 6.0 rebounds.
"At the beginning of the season, I wasn't looking to take my shots or be aggressive with my body," Williams said. "Now, I just really want to be more aggressive, and I hope the rest of the team takes that kind of intensity over."
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