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Duke women's basketball falls hard to strong Gamecock frontcourt

The Gamecocks controlled the paint all afternoon Sunday, limiting the Blue Devils' opportunities around the basket.
The Gamecocks controlled the paint all afternoon Sunday, limiting the Blue Devils' opportunities around the basket.

COLUMBIA, S.C.—A season ago, the Blue Devils pulled off an incredible upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium against a visiting South Carolina squad that went on to win the national championship.

This time, the fifth-ranked Gamecocks and All-American A’ja Wilson got revenge on their home floor Sunday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena, routing the No. 14 Blue Devils by a score of 72-52.

“I don’t think you have to lose to learn. However, this one’s pretty painful,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s always tough to lose in that fashion where it’s not a very exciting game for you or for us for that matter, so it’s never a good thing. It never feels good, but it’s a good time to self-reflect and see what things we can do better.”

South Carolina’s hard-nosed man-to-man defense stifled Duke’s usual scorers from finding good looks. Graduate student Rebecca Greenwell only scored seven points and remained two 3-pointers away from the program’s career record after going 0-for-2 from deep, and sophomore Leaonna Odom shot just 33.3 percent from the field.

The usual lights-out 3-point shooting duo in Brown and Greenwell went cold for the night, and Duke (6-2) only made one triple in 10 attempts. 

“They definitely were right up in our guards’ grill today, and it was very difficult to get them open,” senior Erin Mathias said. “When things like that happen, we need other people to also step up.”

Duke’s stagnant offense let it fall behind by double digits in the second quarter, and South Carolina’s lead only increased from there. 

The Blue Devils went into the locker room at halftime down 38-27, but could have been losing by much more if it weren’t for Brown, who continuously attacked the basket and finished with 13 points. Mathias also contributed to Duke’s scoring, making all three of her first-half shots from the field and leading the team with 16 points on the afternoon. 

To try and limit the Gamecocks’ chances in the frontcourt, the Blue Devils came out in a 3-2 zone defense, fronting Wilson in the post. This strategy made it difficult for Wilson to get the ball in her preferred spots, but opened the game up for other South Carolina players, including redshirt junior Alexis Jennings, who posted a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. 

“I watched her on film and I thought to myself, ‘She’s really good.’ She’s really come along and to some extent, with all due respect, she’s harder to guard than [former South Carolina center Alaina] Coates,” McCallie said. “She’s got tremendous value for South Carolina, and again, I know they’ve got a lot of great players, but she’s really stepping up quickly.”

Wilson still found a way to make an impact with her numerous putbacks near the rim and added a double-double of her own with 18 points and 11 boards. Even when Duke’s defense managed to get a stop, the South Carolina frontcourt corralled 15 offensive rebounds and earned 17 second-chance points.

In the first quarter, Duke struggled to take care of the ball, turning it over four times to give the Gamecocks (8-1) easier chances to score and help them jump out to an eight-point lead. 

The Blue Devils’ turnover woes continued into the second period, getting Wilson wide-open layups on more fast breaks. South Carolina capitalized on Duke’s mistakes, scoring 19 points off turnovers.

Although McCallie went with a bigger lineup in the second half, with freshmen Madison Treece and Jade Williams seeing more time on the floor to help Mathias, Wilson continued to show her might, getting Mathias into foul trouble and converting an and-one to force a Duke timeout. 

Duke desperately needed a run to get back in the game, but South Carolina’s defense never wavered and the deficit continued to grow. After a few missed layups by the Blue Devils and poor transition defense to begin the second half, the Gamecocks increased their lead to 20. The Blue Devils let South Carolina have its way on offense and gradually looked more defeated on the court. 

The Gamecock frontcourt’s domination increased in the second half, and South Carolina finished with more points in the paint than Duke had in total.

“They were really patient—more patient than what I’ve seen on film to date,” McCallie said. “I’m sure they were instructed very carefully where to get that basketball, so I thought they did a great job doing that.”

Although the Blue Devils looked ready to put up a fight in the fourth quarter, their runs came far too late, as the Gamecocks stayed in control for the rest of the period to send Duke home with a blowout loss. 

Duke will have a string of nonconference home games beginning with UNC Greensboro Thursday to recuperate before facing a tough Miami team on the road at the end of December.


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