Blue Devils prevail in battle of the trenches

Although Vanderbilt was nationally ranked, the Blue Devils had a number of reasons to believe they would run all over the Commodores.

On the season, no opponent had come within 21 points of beating Duke, and in the team's last matchup against then-No. 17 Rutgers on the road, the Blue Devils rolled over the Scarlet Knights in a 40-point romp.

But last night's game more resembled trench warfare than the fast-break runaway style that the Blue Devils have gotten used to.

Vanderbilt did not score any fast-break points in the game, and Duke only had six, all coming late in the second half. Moreover, the two squads combined for 41 turnovers.

"We were just in a rush to get out and get going," guard Lindsey Harding said about the difficulty in the fast break. "It just took a lot to adjust to because Vanderbilt is a great team and they got back quickly on defense. We just have to figure out a way to push the ball, which we got going a little to late. But we didn't [early on]."

The lack of a transition game on both sides was not just due to sloppy ball handling and poor choices on the break. Both teams were disciplined defensively and used their speed to create turnovers. Whenever either squad pushed the ball up the floor following a turnover or rebound, the opposing defense was usually one step ahead and in position to stymie the offensive push.

Harding and Wanisha Smith tried to force the issue a couple of times by taking the ball hard to the rim. But they often faced a wall of Commodores that either redirected the shot or took a charge.

Head coach Gail Goestenkors said she thought her team forced some shots and was not patient enough on the offensive end.

Harding, though, managed to take it the length of the floor for a layup following her own steal with 6:13 remaining in the game, the team's first fast-break points of the night. Smith added two of her own two minutes later with a layup off a Waner no-look pass-a play that began a hectic sequence in which Duke would score eight straight points and effectively put the game out of reach.

Because it was so difficult to establish a transition game, the two teams got mixed up in a war of attrition in the half-court for most of the game, in which Duke held the advantage. The Blue Devils prevailed in the gritty half-court battle due to their superior talent and defensive discipline.

Whenever Vanderbilt center Carla Thomas got the ball down low, Alison Bales stood up to Thomas's physical play and limited the Commodores' leading scorer to 14 points-more than five points less than her season average entering the game.

On the Blue Devils' offensive end, Thomas and Vanderbilt's other posts clogged the middle. But Bales managed to break through on numerous occasions en route to a game-high 16 points.

With so much traffic in the middle, Duke turned to its three-point shot early to bombard the Commodores. The Blue Devils' first nine points came off of three-pointers by Harding, Waner and Smith.

When the shots were not falling, though, Duke was forced to show patience in the half-court against Vanderbilt's pesky defense. At times, the Blue Devils threw some errant passes that led to turnovers.

But if Duke continues to outrebound teams by 15 and limit talented offenses like Vanderbilt's-which entered the game averaging 51.3 percent from the field-to 33.3 percent shooting and 48 points, then 80-point plus offensive outputs will not be necessary for the Blue Devils.


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