On a night during which the Blue Devils honored former four-time All-American center Elizabeth Williams, it was only fitting that Duke beat No. 17 Kentucky by holding the Wildcats to 30.0 percent shooting.
Williams' No. 1 jersey was unveiled in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium at halftime of Thursday's contest, as the 6-foot-3 center became the third player in team history to have her number retired. Williams joined Alana Beard and Lindsey Harding as the only players to earn the prestigious honor, and gave an emotional speech during the halftime ceremony in front of many former teammates and classmates.
“I was not expecting to be so emotional. Most people who know me know I stay kind of the same," Williams said. "[My classmates have] just seen me grow as a person and have been my best friends since then and are still my best friends now, so for them to share this moment with me obviously meant a whole lot. I was really excited and overcome with emotion that they were there.”
The Virginia Beach, Va., native played at Duke from 2011 to 2015, averaging 14.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game and becoming the first ACC player ever to earn AP All-America accolades in all four of her seasons.
The first men's or women's basketball player to have her jersey retired at Duke since Harding in January 2008, Williams combined a powerful low-post game with tenacious defense to help the Blue Devils win ACC regular-season titles and advance to the Elite Eight in her initial two seasons.
She became the first four-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year before being selected fourth overall by the WNBA's Atlanta Dream in the 2015 draft. After an inconsistent rookie season in which she averaged 3.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in 11.7 minutes per game, Williams was named the 2016 WNBA Most Improved Player for becoming a force down low at the professional level.
Williams raised her averages to 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds to go along with 2.3 blocks per contest, tying a league-high with 34.7 minutes per game and starting every game in her second year.
A standout student who went through Duke's CAPE program for mentoring female varsity student-athletes, Williams said Thursday she still has hopes of eventually becoming a doctor after her playing career ends.
"I’m really comfortable where I am with playing. The first year was not pretty for me, but [head coach Michael Cooper] gave me a chance in Atlanta," Williams said. "I just tried to embrace it and it worked out really well.”
In addition to watching a video tribute from former teammates Thursday, Williams had a special guest—Lisa Borders, Trinity '79, president of the WNBA and a member of Duke's Board of Trustees.
"She’s an impact player is what I would say. You can watch not just the points she puts on the board, but the footwork she uses to move in the paint, the blocked shots she’s able to reach—she’s incredible," Borders said. "She’s been a real contributor to the Atlanta Dream, which is in my home city and is the team I helped bring to that city almost 10 years ago now.”
Carolyn Chang contributed reporting.
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