HARTFORD, Conn.— In the opening half, the Blue Devils seemed to play with a clean slate, unaware that they had ever faltered against one of the nation’s elite programs in past years.
The second half served as a reminder.
No. 10 Duke started the game with a 6-2 lead, but from then on No. 2 Connecticut dictated the pace of the game. The defending national champions surged ahead, but the Blue Devils responded to tie the game at 22-22. The Huskies reclaimed the lead with 4:37 left in the first half and didn't give it back. Although the Blue Devils stuck with the Huskies throughout the first 20 minutes, Connecticut ran away with the game early in the second half, scored an impressive 16 points in the first five minutes of the half and extended the lead from there.
The Huskies routed Duke 83-52—the second-lowest scoring performance for the Blue Devils on the season. Although it appeared as if Duke had corrected many of its issues with its upset of then-No. 8 Kentucky Dec. 21, it clearly has more work to do.
“It was a pathetic display from us, especially in terms of hustle and intangibles,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s not always about shot-making. It’s about how you hustle as a team and we did not do that, especially in the second half.”
One of the major issues that has plagued the Blue Devils (8-4) all season is turnovers. Going into Monday's game against the Huskies (10-1), Duke only had two players with more assists than turnovers—senior Ka’lia Johnson and junior-college transfer Mercedes Riggs. True to form, the Blue Devils giveaways 22 turnovers against the Huskies, the fourth time in five contests that Duke has coughed up the ball 20 or more times.
Duke also struggled majorly on the glass. As the tallest team in the nation, the Blue Devils came into Monday’s game leading the nation in rebounding, but they were outrebounded by a relentless Connecticut frontcourt, 38-32.
“They played harder than us in every position,” McCallie said. “They got every hustle play. Those kids play hard. They play hard in every minute. They do not relent, and frankly they don’t take second halves off either. They just don’t quit.”
Another cause of Duke’s downfall was a rough shooting night for redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell’s performance. The Owensboro, Ky., has been a key offensive threat for the Blue Devils throughout the season thus far, averaging 13.8 points per contest entering Monday's tilt. The Huskies managed to hold Greenwell without a field goal for the entirety of the game, which was a huge blow to Duke’s perimeter play. Greenwell posted a career-low four points.
Monday’s game showcased many of the issues the Blue Devils have been facing throughout the season, which are due in part to the difficulty of Duke’s nonconeference schedule. The Blue Devils have already taken on five ranked opponents, four of which were ranked in the top 10 at the time.
McCallie has attributed these early season losses to a lack of heart and a lack of hustle. Monday, she noted that leadership on the court was virtually nonexistent and that the intangible things that win games are simply not happening.
“I think we over-rotated this year—our schedule’s too hard," McCallie said. "This team has not responded in the way that I would have liked them to. I’m very disappointed. We don’t have have the hustle and the fight that it takes to go through the schedule we just went through. We will make this into learning lessons, but we’re also going to be honest that this has not been good.”
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