Time and time again in ACC play last year, Duke faltered down the stretch and wound up losing enough games to fall out of the NCAA tournament.
This year has been different, and the No. 13 Blue Devils got just enough offense in the closing minutes to pull out their second top-10 win of the year in their ACC opener.
Duke topped No. 8 Louisville 58-55 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday night, with Rebecca Greenwell's runner with less than a minute left giving the Blue Devils the lead for good. The Cardinals shot just 39.7 percent from the field, struggling to score against Duke's matchup zone, and the Blue Devils prevailed as both teams set season-lows in scoring.
“I’m very proud of our team, because you have to be able to win ugly,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “You have to be able to make things happen when things are not looking very pretty.”
The Blue Devils (13-1, 1-0 in the ACC) entered the fourth quarter trailing by three, but took the lead on a driving layup by Kyra Lambert midway through the period.
After Louisville's Mariya Moore knocked down a triple to put the Cardinals (13-3, 1-1) in front 51-50, both teams went scoreless for nearly three minutes before Duke forward Kendall Cooper made a layup with 1:46 remaining.
Cooper was one of the Blue Devils’ most efficient players, scoring eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, and she also helped hold the Cardinals’ All-ACC frontcourt tandem of Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen to a combined 4-of-13 shooting in the first half.
Although Hines-Allen and Moore got going in the second half, Duke contained the dynamic tandem just as it did against then-No. 3 South Carolina in its upset Dec. 3.
“Kendall’s really coming on. To use the language of today, she’s trending,” McCallie said. “She’s working hard and she’s getting more relaxed in her role, and that’s a great thing.”
Duke iced the game with four Lexie Brown free throws down the stretch—the junior finished with 17 points to lead her team for the fourth straight game and has now made 45 straight free throws to extend the school record.
Trailing 25-23 coming out of the halftime locker room, Louisville got one of its only easy buckets of the day when the Blue Devils set up their defense on the wrong side of the court, leading to an uncontested layup for the Cardinals.
“They lined up, they were, like, laughing at us, I was like. ‘Why are they smiling?’” Brown said. “Oh—layup.”
Duke recovered from the mishap to take its first lead of the second half when Greenwell made a driving layup with two minutes left in the third quarter, but Moore silenced the crowd with a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired on the ensuing possession.
Star guard Asia Durr extended Louisville's lead to five with a triple of her own soon after, but the Blue Devils outscored the Cardinals 17-11 in the fourth quarter to battle back for the dramatic win. After scoring just six points in the paint in the first half, Duke scored 20 inside after the break to match Louisville with 26.
“Those paint points are critical,” McCallie said. “You can’t play from the outside in no matter how good you are.”
Although the Blue Devils scored on their first four possessions of the game to jump out to an early 9-5 lead and still led 15-12 after a quarter of play, they cooled off considerably in the second quarter. Duke only scored three points in the first 7:29 of the quarter on a 3-pointer by Brown, allowing Louisville to take the lead with a long 9-3 run.
After the Blue Devils scored on two straight possessions to tie it up at 23, the Cardinals took the lead with 52 seconds left in the half when Durr snuck behind Duke's matchup zone for an easy layup off an assist from Moore.
Louisville fed the paint throughout the first half, relentlessly attacking the hole in the Blue Devils' zone in front of the basket to the tune of 14 points in the paint before the break. But the Cardinals missed plenty of contested shots inside and went 6-of-23 from 3-point range to keep Duke close.
The Blue Devils battled throughout the game and finally pulled ahead for good led by their stars Greenwell and Brown. Greenwell finished with 10 points and six rebounds and backcourt mate Lambert made key plays throughout the contest to add nine points, six boards and five steals.
“I just tried to stay aggressive,” Lambert said. “When it was a possession game like that, as a team, we just tried to stick together no matter the ups and downs.”
Greenwell, an Owensboro, Ky., native got a win against a ranked team from her home state for the second time in five days after Duke beat then-No. 17 Kentucky last Thursday.
“Especially after last year, going 0-2 against them, it’s a sweet, sweet feeling to be able to come back and get a little redemption at home,” Greenwell said.
The Blue Devils will look to extend their impressive nine-game winning streak Thursday at Georgia Tech.
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