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Duke women's basketball survives at Penn in season opener

<p>Sophomore Azurá Stevens scored seven of her team-high 15 points in the decisive fourth quarter as Duke clawed its way back for a 57-50 win at Pennsylvania Friday night.</p>

Sophomore Azurá Stevens scored seven of her team-high 15 points in the decisive fourth quarter as Duke clawed its way back for a 57-50 win at Pennsylvania Friday night.

PHILADELPHIA—After struggling for the first three quarters, the Blue Devils found their footing when it mattered most led by their star forward.

Sophomore Azurá Stevens scored seven of her team-high 15 points during a game-defining stretch in the fourth quarter that helped No. 14 Duke extend its lead from one to six late in Friday's 57-50 win against Pennsylvania at the Palestra. After starting the game on a 9-2 run, the Blue Devils went cold and entered the fourth quarter trailing 41-37.

But after junior forward Oderah Chidom put Duke up 46-45 with a layup, Stevens nailed a long 3-pointer as the shot clock expired and connected inside on the next possession to give the Blue Devils the edge late in their season opener.

“I think we played really well just passing and getting the defense to move, especially with one of us at the high [post] and one of us at the low [post] and just really sticking to Duke basketball,” Stevens said.

After dominating in both of their exhibition games, Duke (1-0) looked well on its way to another rout before the Quakers caught fire in the third quarter. Pennsylvania (0-1) went 6-of-8 from long range in the period, outscoring the Blue Devils 25-14 in the period thanks to the hot shooting of Lauren Whitlatch and Michele Nwodeki, who combined for 33 points on the evening and 20 of their team's 25 points in the third quarter. Whitlatch went 6-of-17 from long range for the game, and consistently found soft spots in Duke’s zone defense.

Pennsylvania took advantage of 24 Duke turnovers—20 of which came in the first three quarters. The 24 turnovers marks an opening-day high for Duke under head coach Joanne P. McCallie. It was the Blue Devils’ highest tally since their season debut in the 2003-04 season.

“[It was] a hard-fought game,” McCallie said. “It was a good game for us, not offensively, but just to get out and get away from Cameron [Indoor Stadium] and fight through adversity.”

Although the Blue Devils struggled for much of the contest, they held the Quakers to 19.4 percent shooting in the opening half and got steady play from freshman point guard Kyra Lambert, who sparked the team's 9-2 start and finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. Redshirt sophomore guard Rebecca Greenwell added nine points and eight rebounds for Duke, which enjoyed a 23-16 halftime lead despite its star, Stevens, spending much of the half on the bench in foul trouble.

Outside of Lambert, the rest of the top-ranked class had trouble putting the ball in the basket. Highly-touted freshman guard Angela Salvadores barely played for the Blue Devils, registering two turnovers and a rebound in 10 minutes. Classmates Haley Gorecki and Crystal Primm also struggled offensively, finishing a combined 2-of-10 from the field for five points. But Gorecki still found ways to make her mark on the game, accounting for three steals.

With Pennsylvania holding onto a five-point lead late in the third quarter, McCallie reinserted reserves Chidom and Gorecki, leading to the Blue Devils’ late-game surge. The backcourt tandem of Gorecki and Lambert wrecked havoc on the Quaker backcourt for the last 12 minutes of the game, as Duke outscored the home team 20-9 in the fourth quarter. Because Stevens and Chidom can both make mid-range jump shots, they were able to space the floor, allowing Duke to use its height difference to its advantage. The substitutions also enabled McCallie to switch back to her full court press, which frustrated the Quakers with the Blue Devils' speed and length.

McCallie touted the Blue Devils’ versatility, which enabled her to mix and match players until she found the winning combination. That eventual lineup—which consisted of Stevens, Chidom, Greenwell, Lambert and Gorecki—gave Stevens and Chidom ample room to work their fourth-quarter magic with excellent floor spacing.

After pulling out the victory late in Friday's contest, the Blue Devils will look for a more consistent showing on the offensive end Sunday against Winthrop at 6 p.m.

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