PHILADELPHIA — Despite what a certain sitcom title may say, it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia.
For Duke, last night was one of those occasions.
Unable to carry the momentum from Sunday afternoon’s victory against DePaul, the Blue Devils fell to one-seed Connecticut 75-40 at the Liacouras Center last night. The loss eliminated Duke from the NCAA Tournament.
“It was just a tough game playing against a good team, and we knew coming into the NCAA Tournament that we’d play good teams,” said senior Jasmine Thomas, who was selected to the Philadelphia region All-Tournament team. “We couldn’t afford to come out and play a game like we did today, whether it was against UConn or the other day against DePaul. We didn’t stay as tough as we knew we could’ve.”
Duke started off the game with a Chelsea Gray jumper that gave the team an early 2-0 lead. Twenty-six seconds later, though, Connecticut took the lead and never looked back. The Blue Devils managed to stay in the game, even coming within three with 3:37 remaining in the first half, but lost momentum and were down 30-20 at halftime.
“In the first half, we definitely came out there and fought... in the second half we tried to come back, but at that point, they already had too big of a lead,” said Karima Christmas, the other Duke player named to the regional All-Tournament team. “We just really wanted to play better than we did last time, and we did, but unfortunately it was the same outcome.”
In the first half, the Blue Devils outrebounded the Huskies 22-19. That number changed quickly, however, as Connecticut’s bigs began crashing the boards more in the second half, and Duke was outrebounded 40-27 by the end of the game. Two-time All-American Maya Moore and freshman Stefanie Dolson combined for 16 rebounds and 40 points, or as many points as the entire Duke team.
“We lost contact, and we let them get open shots,” Christmas said. “There were wide open shots, and [Moore] was in the high post.... We had to be moving at all times, knowing where she was, locating where she was at, contesting all her shots.”
With the help of Moore and Dolson, the Huskies’ inside game proved unstoppable, making up the majority of Connecticut’s 45 points scored in the second half. They outshot Duke in the paint 40-8, and their edge in field goal percentage—59.3 percent to 25.4 percent—left the Blue Devils wanting for an answer.
“You have to credit certainly their defense, but I was a little dismayed on hustle plays,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “We weren’t too alive, and it wasn’t like we were really playing an aggressive type of game that you need to play in Game 4.”
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Some of Duke’s shooting struggles resulted from Connecticut’s high pressure defense that forced the Blue Devils to toss the ball out to the perimeter and make rushed shots before the shot clock expired.
“It’s just not being patient, not getting good shots,” said Thomas, who finished with 17 points and six rebounds. “Once we got down by 20, we just lost that chemistry and just started trying to press shots, get quick points, and we were getting stopped on defense.”
Faced with the defensive pressure and an inability to shoot from inside the paint, Duke’s forwards and centers had a difficult time finding ways to contribute. The frontcourt had only 11 points in the contest.
“I tried to get in there, tried to get shots, but some weren’t falling,” Christmas said. “I never really found my attack, and I tried to find other ways to score, but that didn’t come as easily.”
Despite the team’s elimination from the Tournament’s Elite Eight for the second year in a row—Duke lost to Baylor last year 51-48—the Blue Devils are hopeful for next year and are happy with the way their season panned out.
“It’s been a great season, obviously that was not a very good basketball game today from our side, but it will provide us with a lot more lessons,” McCallie said. “We are extremely proud of our seniors and the season that we’ve had.… It’s been a tremendous season.”