Duke star guard Rebecca Greenwell may call Kentucky her home state, but her home state’s team has not been to kind to her on the basketball court. The Owensboro, Ky., native scored just one point in a loss to Kentucky last season, and went more than a quarter and a half without scoring Thursday night.
But this year on a big stage, backcourt mate and All-American Maryland transfer Lexie Brown had Greenwell's back.
Despite an off shooting day for Greenwell, Brown’s 24 points and five steals helped the No. 15 Blue Devils top No. 17 Kentucky 69-54 Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, their second victory against a ranked team this season. Duke’s strong post defense shut down Wildcat second-team All-SEC forward Evelyn Akhator, holding her scoreless for almost the entire game, and the Blue Devils used a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter to pull away.
“Just a great defensive game for our team. Offensively, we weren’t as sharp at times, but we looked for each other,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Lexie led us early and aggressively offensively. I loved her getting those steals as well. She’s very efficient and can do a lot of things, you just have got to keep the ball in her hands.”
Despite committing 21 turnovers and allowing 30 points to the Wildcat duo of Makayla Epps and Taylor Murray, Duke got enough offense from Brown and senior forward Oderah Chidom—who had all 11 of her points in the first half—to prevail.
Chidom scored eight quick points against Akhator in the paint in the first quarter, frequently attacking off the dribble before finishing layups.
“She was really good. She just caught it, saw there was no resistance, boom, quick moves, really good job there,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We did a better job [in the second half] when we forced her out and we started collapsing and getting some turnovers. She’s a really fine player, good athlete, plays hard.”
With freshman forward Leonna Odom on the bench for all but three minutes of the first half after picking up two quick fouls, the Blue Devils (12-1) had to adjust on the fly against an undersized Wildcat team while dealing with an off day from their leading scorer.
Despite a dominant 29-point performance against then-No. 3 South Carolina Dec. 4, Greenwell was once again mired in a shooting slump, making just one of her first six field goal attempts.
But Chidom stepped up in the opening 20 minutes, going a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in the first half. With Odom limited, senior forward Kendall Cooper also had a nice game down low with 10 points, and Greenwell got going after halftime to notch a double-double with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds.
Although Chidom and company were streaky on offense, their defense was consistent, holding the Wildcats (9-4) to 30.0 percent shooting by completely taking Akhator out of the game. McCallie and Blue Devil coaching staff mixed up their defensive looks to rattle the Wildcats, switching from a man-to-man defense to the team’s traditional matchup zone, and even pressing at times.
“It’s really cool that we’re able to switch defenses like that, just as a gameplan, not because we can’t stop people. It’s mainly to confuse people,” Brown said. “Our main focus in practice is our defense. Tonight we got key stops. We take stopping people and stopping teams personally.”
After missing the last two games due to injury, Murray kept her team afloat with 16 first-half points to keep Kentucky close, but the Wildcats could not generate enough offense late in the game to earn a second straight win against Duke. Kentucky shot 17.6 percent from the field in the second half, with Murray scoring just two points.
“The team was upset she had 16 points at the half,” McCallie said. “That was half their point total, to one player who didn’t even play in the last game. With respect to her, there was a real focus put on her. We had focus coming in, but at the same time, not as much as a focus as she earned in that first half.”
Brown was the best player on the court Thursday, making 6-of-12 shots and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line to go along with her steals that extended the Blue Devils' winning streak to eight before a matchup with No. 8 Louisville Jan. 2 to start conference play
“We didn’t do a very good job with Lexie,” Mitchell said. “She really made some shots with a hand in her face tonight, she was terrific. Our post players didn’t do a good job of understanding that just because we were trying to take away Greenwell, we were a little relaxed in the first half. We weren’t intense enough and relaxed in the post.”
Carolyn Chang contributed reporting.
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Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor
A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks.