With Haley Gorecki, Duke’s second-leading scorer, out for the game against Georgia Tech with a left hip injury, the Blue Devils needed someone to step up and make up for the 15.4 points per game Gorecki contributes.
That player was freshman forward Jade Williams, who scored a career-high 16 points, eight rebounds and six blocks.
Williams’ dominating offensive performance Thursday destroyed her previous career high--eight points against Wyoming in mid-December. Her career high for blocks is seven against Villanova and N.C. State. Williams also had four blocks in early January against Louisville.
“The blocks, the defense, the rebounding,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said of what impressed her most about the performance. “Of course she scored. Since she was 7-of-8, we might want to get the ball to her more.”
The Blue Devils were off to a slow start, starting the second quarter trailing by four to the Yellow Jackets. Williams came out ready to play and boost the team’s spirit, scoring Duke’s first basket of the quarter. She got back on defense quickly to follow the layup with a block and then a defensive rebound. Back on the other end of the court, she put up another layup to bring the game back to a tie.
“I like defense, I like blocking shots, getting rebounds,” Williams said. “I was happy to do that.”
Later on, as the clock wound down in the first half, Williams hit her stride at a vital time for Duke’s confidence, sending it into the locker room with a comfortable lead. Williams controlled six straight possessions, running the floor in a way that has been unparalleled in her young career so far. Williams scored five straight points for Duke, in addition to grabbing rebounds and blocking shots on defense.
“We knew that they were gonna go hard to the basket, so I just kind of knew I couldn’t fight them all the way,” Williams said. “I would come off of them, so I think that was why I was blocking their shots because they were expecting to kind of bully me into the paint.”
No.19 Duke headed to the locker room at halftime with an incredible performance by Williams-- 14 points, five rebounds and four blocks. Although graduate student Lexie Brown dominated the offensive end of the floor in the second half, Williams’ physical ability and aggressiveness kept up the intensity on defense.
With Gorecki’s situation described as “day-to-day” but “hopeful,” the Blue Devils are going to need to rely on Williams’ newfound offensive success to put points on the board in ACC play to come.
“I’m just going to have to focus every game just play my hardest and listen to what people around me have to say,” Williams said. “And learn from every game.”
Duke is only trailing by one game in the conference standings to Virginia, and it is two games behind ACC leaders Louisville and Notre Dame, so wins in the last month of its regular season are crucial to confidence going into the postseason. That confidence remains intact after a win in which the team started an unprecedented lineup with three centers.
“We’re trending toward getting something special and learning about our team more,” McCallie said. “I'm not sure our team believed we could do that with three posts and be as effective. Now our team understands our diversity and our weapons, and we've got to use everybody and find a way.”
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