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Offensive rebounding helps Blue Devils move past Cavaliers in Stevens' return

Azurá Stevens and Oderah Chidom combined for 34 points and 24 rebounds Thursday

<p>Junior Oderah Chidom snagged five offensive rebounds Thursday against Virginia, helping lead to 21 second-chance Duke points.</p>

Junior Oderah Chidom snagged five offensive rebounds Thursday against Virginia, helping lead to 21 second-chance Duke points.

GREENSBORO, N.C.—With outside shots not falling, the Blue Devils needed to go back to their old ways to grind out a win—all helped by the return of their star player.

Duke outrebounded Virginia 49-32 and grabbed a season-high 24 offensive boards, using its size to survive an off shooting night as the Blue Devils emerged with a 57-53 victory against the Cavaliers in the second round of the ACC tournament. After missing seven straight games due to a plantar fascia injury, sophomore Azurá Stevens picked up right where she left off, turning in a double-double of 14 points and 15 rebounds. She had plenty of help from frontcourt mate Oderah Chidom, who added 20 points and nine rebounds to send eighth-seeded Duke marching on to the quarterfinals.

The Blue Devils only made one 3-pointer and shot 31.3 percent for the game, but their effort on the glass was enough to snatch a win.

Faced with an nine-point deficit late in the first quarter, Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie told her team to take advantage of its imposing size in the post, with the Cavaliers’ tallest starter checking in at 6-foot-2. By the end of the period, Virginia’s lead was down to four, and midway through the second quarter, the Blue Devils took charge of the game.

“The team did a great job showing some patience and getting the ball in the paint and making them defend us,” McCallie said. “Azurá had attempts—she needs to get them, and Amber [Henson] was missing in action due to foul trouble. She can help us a lot, so the inside game is very important to us.”

Stevens—Duke's leading scorer and rebounder at 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game—was the difference-maker on the offensive end of the court. Grabbing nine offensive rebounds herself, Stevens fought relentlessly for second-chance opportunities, converting a few with contested layups. Using her 6-foot-6 frame in the post, the Raleigh native contributed offensively despite making just six of her 15 shots.

With sharpshooter Rebecca Greenwell sidelined after re-aggravating a back injury, the injury-ravaged Blue Devils desperately needed a typical big game from Stevens, even though the sophomore has not fully participated in practice since hurting her foot in Duke’s 68-61 loss to then-No. 3 Notre Dame Feb. 1.

“We’ve really just been taking it day by day and rehabbing it, so I didn’t really know when I was going to be playing, but obviously when we found out [Rebecca Greenwell] wouldn’t be playing, I was ready to go,” Stevens said. “I was just like, ‘My team needs me and I’m out here not to just prance around but to do what I need to do to help them out.”

Not to be overshadowed, Chidom also made her mark Thursday, creating second-chance opportunities for the Blue Devils with five offensive rebounds. Chidom’s non-stop efforts on the offensive end forced the Cavaliers into foul trouble, with four Virginia players stuck with at least four fouls apiece. The junior forward’s aggressiveness around the basket paid off and earned the Oakland, Calif., native several trips to the free-throw line, where she made 6-of-7 shots.

With Henson plagued by foul trouble, Duke needed Chidom and Stevens to find some chemistry in the post with the Blue Devil offense reeling. Although it was not perfect, the duo made up for their mistakes by creating second chances, either by drawing loose-ball fouls fighting for rebounds or scoring off of put-back opportunities. In total, Duke scored 21 points off of second chances, compared to only 12 such points for the Cavaliers.

Stevenswas clearly not at 100 percent Thursday, but it did not matter against Virginia. Her presence and hustle was enough to will the Blue Devils to victory, but she will not get much time off to recover because Duke has its quarterfinal matchup against the top-seeded Fighting Irish Friday afternoon.

"[I am] very excited,” Stevens said. “I missed playing with my team so much, and just to be back in this first tournament game has been really fun.”

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