Maybe the Blue Devils’ sudden fall from the ranks of the elite was a wake-up call.
Duke continued its recent hot streak Thursday, knocking off Pittsburgh 70-48 at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh to pick up its fourth consecutive victory. Although it was close throughout the first quarter, the Blue Devils turned it on and pulled away over the final 30 minutes, outscoring their opponents, 51-30.
Sophomore Azurá Stevens dominated the scoring in the early going, notching 16 of Duke’s 34 first-half points. The sophomore scored 26 total points for the second straight game, extending her double-figure scoring streak to 36 games, as she closes in on Alana Beard’s streak of 40 games—the second-longest in program history.
Redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell added 22 points, combining with Stevens to hit 7-of-10 3-pointers and score as many points as the Panthers.
"Both of them can have big nights any night, and what’s really nice is they’re getting consistent, really attacking. I thought Becca’s balance was absolutely super, I thought Azurá’s confidence was super inside and out," Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie told GoDuke.com. "They’re really going after Becca and Azurá, but I saw a lot of patience tonight. I didn’t see any forced shots—I saw people waiting and finding their openings.
Although Stevens and Greenwell were prolific from downtown, the Blue Devils (16-6, 5-3 in the ACC) won the game in the paint. Duke pitched a near-shutout down low, winning the battle underneath the basket 36-4. Pittsburgh's first points in the paint did not come until early in the fourth quarter, as the Panthers struggled all night to get clean shots over the top of Duke's taller frontcourt. The stellar effort in the paint was spearheaded by Oderah Chidom, as the junior tallied 12 points—her third straight game with at least 11 points.
The Blue Devils were also active on the defensive end, forcing 21 Panther turnovers and holding Pittsburgh (9-12, 1-7) to just 32.7 percent shooting from the field. After an 18-point outburst in the first quarter, the Panthers scored just 19 over the next 20 minutes, thanks in part to the insertion of senior Mercedes Riggs into the lineup, which gave Duke a spark on the defensive end.
"When Mercedes checked into that game, the energy got sky-high. She was giving a lot to her teammates and her teammates responded really well," McCallie said. "It’s always fun to see a senior who comes off the bench give that kind of energy."
Freshman guard Brenna Wise scored 17 points—including four 3-pointers—to lead Pittsburgh as the team's only double-digit scorer. But Greenwell neutralized Wise from the perimeter, drilling four triples of her own as the Panther defense tried—often in vain—to eliminate Stevens' ability to convert in the post.
"Azurá’s been playing out her mind right now," Greenwell told GoDuke.com. The defense is just trying to find ways to shut her down, and it’s hard when she can play inside and outside."
Freshman guard Angela Salvadores checked into the game just before the midway point of the second quarter, seeing her first action since Jan. 14 against N.C. State after suffering an ankle injury against the Wolfpack. In limited minutes, the Spanish point guard was quiet, missing her lone shot attempt.
The rest of the Blue Devil bench was just as quiet. After the Duke and North Carolina reserves combined for zero bench points Sunday in Durham, the Blue Devils managed just three Thursday—a basket by freshman Faith Suggs and a free throw by sophomore Erin Mathias in a return trip to her home state of Pennsylvania.
With the win, Duke will ride the momentum of a four-game winning streak into Monday's showdown against No. 3 Notre Dame in Durham. The ACC leaders will give Duke yet another chance to break through against a ranked opponent for the first time this season, and could serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the conference that the Blue Devils are once again wide awake, as Thursday's effort showed.
"It comes from defense and it comes from rebounding," McCallie said. "You really have to play blue-collar basketball in this league."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."