CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - With their 15th consecutive win against No. 17 Virginia, Duke sent a message-one that showed the entire conference the Blue Devils are an aggressive and consistent team that isn't afraid to get physical.
Sophomore guard Jasmine Thomas matched her career high with 22 points as No. 4 Duke fed off a physical offense and an aggressive defense to beat the Cavaliers 81-67 Thursday in John Paul Jones Arena. Sophomore forward Karima Christmas added 18 points for the Blue Devils (19-2, 7-1 in the ACC), which remained atop the league standings with the win.
Thomas and Christmas remained poised and patient on the floor and helped trigger one of Duke's best offensive nights of the season.
"I was focused on taking it to the basket," Thomas said. "In the first half, I was settling for outside shots, but then I saw how easily Karima was getting in there and I realized we could all get in there, and I started attacking as well."
As a whole, Duke boasted its highest field goal percentage this season at a clip of 50.8, including a 65.5 mark in the second half, when Duke went on a 23-6 run to pull away from the Cavaliers (18-5, 4-3).
Although the Blue Devils started the contest 1-of-13 from the field, they turned the tide quickly by being smarter and more efficient with shot selection-and they did it without making a single 3-pointer for the first time in 21 games. Duke made up for its lack of perimeter production with a tough showing in the paint, where it outscored Virginia 48-20.
But despite her team's offensive success, head coach Joanne P. McCallie attributed the win to more than points. For her, success comes from all aspects of the game and pure points are a poor indicator of how well the team actually ended the night.
"I don't like to make a big deal about offense. It's overrated," she said. "We started out very slow in the first half and we still scored 81 points.... The team was focused on defending, rebounding and fighting, as well."
That much was evident in Duke's relentlessness on defense in the second half. Monica Wright, the ACC's leading scorer, matched her season average with 21 points, but despite her presence, the Blue Devils selectively used an effective press that took the wind out of Virginia's sails and slowed down its offense.
And for the first time in three games, Duke was able to outrebound its opponent, grabbing 39 rebounds to Virginia's 31.
As the team enters a critical stretch in the ACC, which includes a matchup with No. 8 North Carolina Monday, McCallie hopes her team can build on the offensive physicality it displayed Thursday while still maintaining its defensive composure.
After all, March is beginning to inch closer-and the Blue Devils' message is beginning to emerge, loud and clear.
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