The Blue Devils have a pair of sharpshooting guards in Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell, but during Wednesday's game Duke relied on its strength inside.
The No. 17 Blue Devils knocked off Villanova 68-50 Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, getting 18 points apiece from Brown and Greenwell to overcome the Wildcats' 3-point oriented attack. Villanova threatened late in the first quarter behind strong perimeter shooting, but ended up going 10-of-41 from long range—3-pointers accounted for more than two-thirds of the Wildcats' shot attempts.
“I’m really proud of our team in terms of our defensive intensity and focus,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It wasn’t like anyone lit it up in a crazy fashion tonight for us, but it was steady and it was smart. When you think about the NCAA tournament, that’s how you have to play—you have to play steady and smart.”
After 12 days without a game due to final exams, the Blue Devils (11-1) were hesitant early on, trailing 7-4 four minutes into the game before launching a 15-0 run to finish the first quarter with a 19-7 lead. Balance was the key for Duke, which got at least seven points from each of its five starters in freshman Leaonna Odom's first career appearance in the starting lineup and owned a 36-12 edge in points in the paint.
On the other end of the court, Villanova (4-6) relied on its five-out offense until late in the game, with sophomore Adrianna Hahn keeping the team afloat by knocking down six 3-pointers.
The Blue Devils had a considerable size advantage but struggled at times to close out on all of the Wildcat shooters, who spread around the perimeter and fired away all night.
“The only way we could beat them is to make at least 15 threes,” Villanova head coach Harry Perretta said. “That was our goal coming in, because we can’t beat them inside—they’re just too big and strong inside.”
With the Wildcats frequently going late in the shot clock before launching from deep, Duke's 68 points tied a season low even though the Blue Devils shot 53.8 percent from the field.
Duke made up for a lower scoring effort by holding the Wildcats to just 50 points—their second-lowest total so far this season.
“We enjoy scoring more points than 68, but the reality is it’s what you do on the other side of the ball,” McCallie said. “It wasn’t a 90-point game for us, but our defense did not let up.”
Duke forced the ball out of Villanova’s hands, converting 10 turnovers into 11 points from a team ranked first nationally with just 9.6 turnovers per game. Brown had three of her team’s six steals, making the Wildcats pay down the stretch as the Blue Devils cruised toward the finish line with a double-digit lead.
“I couldn’t gamble as much as I would have [with] other teams,” Brown said. “They made us pay a couple times. If we went for that steal and didn’t get it, that was a three right in our face.”
Brown and Greenwell were extremely efficient on the offensive end, each converting 7-of-11 field goals and combining for 15 rebounds to support Duke's frontcourt on the glass.
Since many of Villanova's misses resulted in long rebounds, the Blue Devil guards' hustle was crucial and encouraging for a team that has struggled in that department at times early in the year.
“[Rebounding is] something we’ve been focusing in on in practice,” Greenwell said. “Especially for the guards, [McCallie] thinks we have the potential to get more rebounds, so that’s just something I came into the game trying to focus on.”
Duke’s momentum lagged as the second half began, with Villanova's Alex Louin and Hahn each draining a 3-pointer to cut the lead to just eight points.
But sophomore guard Kyra Lambert quickly picked up the slack, scoring eight of her 10 points in the final two frames to round out the Blue Devils’ double-digit scorers.
The Blue Devils chose Wednesday’s game to introduce what may well be their starting lineup for conference play in January. Odom replaced forward Kendall Cooper after playing at least 20 minutes in all but three contests this year.
The versatile forward had seven rebounds and four points, but McCallie said she hoped to introduce the freshman to the lineup early on to relieve some pressure and add athleticism.
“I wanted [Odom] to get that first start out of the way. She missed stuff that she can make,” McCallie said. “I really like our lineup right now—it’s very fast and very quick.”
Duke has another break for the holidays before returning to Cameron Indoor Stadium to host No. 18 Kentucky Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils face three ranked opponents across their next four games, which will propel them into the start of a tough ACC slate beginning with No. 8 Louisville Jan. 2.
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