After an impressive first-round performance, the Blue Devils took to the court at Stegeman Coliseum and shocked the hosts with a blowout win.
No. 5 seed Duke routed fourth-seeded and 18th-ranked Georgia 66-40 in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Athens, Ga., to advance to the Sweet 16 and a showdown with top-seeded Connecticut. Four Blue Devils scored in double figures, and they outscored the Bulldogs 20-2 in the second quarter to effectively put the game out of reach by halftime. It was Duke's first true road win against a ranked opponent since January 2014.
Although the Blue Devils kept a comfortable lead throughout the last three quarters of the game, they were short of their usual performance with 15 turnovers in the first half alone. Graduate student Lexie Brown was responsible for four of them, including three early in the first quarter. Brown also forced giveaways with seven steals of her own on the defensive end, breaking Duke's single-season record for steals.
“[Georgia] had some excellent defense in jumping, passing lanes, being tough and all of that, and I think it was important for us to try to get better with that as we did as the game went on,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “That first quarter was a little rough.”
The Blue Devils (24-8) overwhelmed Georgia with their size, with Jade Williams and Bego Faz Davalos coming off the bench to join starting center Erin Mathias. But Duke still had some trouble in the paint, as it let the Bulldogs grab 21 offensive rebounds.
But Georgia (26-7) could not convert on most of its second chances, and though Duke’s defense delivered an impressive performance to hold the Bulldogs to 14 points in the first half, they were also beating themselves, failing to capitalize on some good looks at the hoop.
After keeping the first quarter close and evening the score at 10 at one point, Georgia lost all of its momentum to begin the second period. The Bulldogs scored only two points in the quarter and ended the half shooting 18.8 percent from the field without a made 3-pointer. Despite getting seven steals, Georgia could not convert in transition, and the Blue Devils took a decisive 35-14 lead into halftime—the Bulldogs’ lowest-scoring total in a half of the season.
“We had a game plan and we really stuck to it. We wanted to keep the paint tight, we knew that was their tendency,” graduate student Rebecca Greenwell said. “They don’t shoot many outside shots, so we really locked in, focused on that and we had great communication on the defensive end of things. It really showed. Everyone was playing off each other.”
Georgia made a point to guard Duke’s highest-scoring duo of Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell closely, as well as sophomore Leaonna Odom—who poured in 25 points Saturday against Belmont—but the trio all still finished with at least 11 points. Odom led the way once again with 16 points.
The Blue Devils did not rely on only the Splash Sisters and Odom. Senior Erin Mathias played a big role, especially in the paint, as she had 14 points and eight rebounds. Along with Mathias, Faith Suggs, who made her second tournament start, also contributed six points and four boards.
“When we were in the huddles, we never noticed how much we were up most of the game,” Suggs said. “That’s the no-scoreboard mentality.... There was a time in the third quarter where we looked up and were like ‘Oh wow, we’re up by that much.’ But it didn’t change our mentality at all, so we just have to keep that mindset moving forward.”
Making their 17th Sweet 16 appearance in program history, the Blue Devils live to see another day in the NCAA tournament. And although Duke dominated the first weekend, the biggest possible challenge lies ahead. The undefeated and 11-time national champion Huskies await the Blue Devils Saturday in Albany, N.Y.—the two schools have not played each other since December 2014, and Duke has not come within 15 points of the perennial powerhouse in its last eight tries.
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“We just have to do the same preparation and reduce our turnovers a little bit and just get after it. I love the opportunity that we get to play the best team in the country and the team that has dominated women’s basketball,” McCallie said. “That is a great opportunity to have and to be able to go out there and compete. That is pretty special, and this team is ready.”