For the first 15 minutes of Monday night's game against Virginia Tech, Duke did not look like the No. 1 team in the country.
The Blue Devils (22-0, 7-0 in the ACC) were giving an overall lackluster performance until a late first-half run gave Duke the boost it needed to ultimately top the Hokies (14-9, 4-4), 75-65, in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"I'm extremely disappointed," head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "I'm proud of the way this team has played throughout the year. I think we've played with a chip on our shoulder, and I think we've had the attack mindset. Tonight, I didn't feel that way at all."
While the Blue Devils still remain perfect in the best season-opening start in school history, Duke did not come out strong in front of its home crowd. The team turned the ball over seven times in the first 11 minutes of the game to fall behind by 11-its largest deficit of the season. On defense, the team lacked communication and allowed the Hokies to shoot 53.8 percent in the opening period. Virginia Tech's 49 percent from the field for the game was the highest Duke has allowed all season.
The Blue Devils, however, did field a tenacious and effective full-court press that was vital to their comeback. Duke also successfully held Virginia Tech's star players Kirby Copeland and Nare Diawara to a mere six and two points, respectively, in the first half.
"We were not on the same page tonight," Goestenkors said. "In all aspects of the game, I think we lacked discipline, emotion-there was no energy out there."
The spark the Blue Devils desperately needed came at the end of the first half. After regrouping with a timeout, freshman Joy Cheek emerged off the bench to power in two baskets, and junior Wanisha Smith responded with a three-pointer to bring Duke to within two and the Cameron Crazies to their feet.
Sophomore Abby Waner then picked a Hokie clean off the dribble for a breakaway layup and ensuing three-point conversion to put the Blue Devils ahead, 29-28.
"We started playing like we should have been the whole game," senior Alison Bales said. "[We were] just playing more to our strengths, sharing the ball a little bit better and pushing it in transition."
Duke never trailed after Waner's go-ahead hoop in the first half, slowly increasing a 39-33 halftime lead to 14 at one point in the second half.
Waner led the Blue Devils in scoring and steals with 18 and five, respectively, while also pulling down six rebounds. Bales had a double-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, and Harding added 15 points and five rebounds of her own. The Duke bench outscored the Hokies' 13-0 in the game.
Although Duke finished the night with the victory, Goestenkors said she was not happy with the Blue Devils' slow start. Duke had also initially struggled at Florida State Jan. 26, but it was similarly able to grind out a victory.
"I don't feel like there are any excuses," Goestenkors said. "There were only eight games left before this game in the regular season-four home games-so there's no excuse not to be ready to play."
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