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Duke women's basketball cruises to victory in exhibition tune-up

<p>Leaonna Odom exerted all-around dominance in the Blue Devils' exhibition contest.</p>

Leaonna Odom exerted all-around dominance in the Blue Devils' exhibition contest.

Seven months removed from its Sweet 16 loss to Connecticut, Duke women’s basketball hoped to open its 2018-19 campaign on the right foot in its exhibition opener.

The Blue Devils did just that, defeating Alaska Anchorage 75-54 Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke bullied the Seawolves all afternoon, outscoring its opponents 42 to 20 in the paint. The Blue Devils were led by junior Leaonna Odom, who sparked the offense with 13 first-quarter points, and finished with 17 points off a very efficient 7-for-10 from the field. 

“I think the paint points make a huge difference in all games,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It is going to be something that we need to be consistent about. Our game has to be our game regardless of who we play. You cannot be dictated by the opponent; we need to show up and do what we do.”

Sophomore center Jade Williams added 17 points of her own, while freshman Onome Akinbode-James posted a double-double for the Blue Devils with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Haley Gorecki struggled; despite totaling 10 rebounds, four assists and a team-high 18 points, the junior shot just 5-for-12 from the field and posted a team-leading seven turnovers.

Both squads had trouble keeping control of the ball throughout the contest, with Duke turning it over 20 times and Alaska Anchorage adding 20 turnovers as well. That carelessness on offense was no more apparent than in the first quarter, when the two teams combined for 15 turnovers.

“[The Seawolves] hustled beautifully, hustled all over the floor and they were quick,” McCallie said. “Turnovers were a problem for us...they were aggressive and that was good for us—to have people really coming after us.”

Despite the sloppy play, the Blue Devils were able to bolt out to a commanding 29-17 advantage after one period, paced by Odom’s dominant first-quarter. Alaska Anchorage had no answer for “Neah”, as the 6-foot-2 forward forced her way into the point at will en route to a perfect 6-for-6 start. One fan even yelled out “it’s too easy” after yet another Odom layup. 

“[Odom] is an amazing player to play with,” Williams said. “We are always going to feed off of her energy.”

The Seawolves’ offense, meanwhile, was carried by the 3-point shot. Of Alaska Anchorage’s 17 first-quarter points, 15 came from downtown. Senior guard Tara Thompson led the way with nine points, all from beyond the arc. 

The second quarter was not much better in terms of handling the ball, with Duke adding six more turnovers during the period. But the Blue Devils were still able to widen their lead to 46-27 entering halftime anchored by efficient inside scoring. Williams made all four of her shot attempts during the quarter, bringing her first-half point total to 13—one behind Odom. 

“I definitely wanted to get started on offense early in the game,” Williams said. “That was definitely the main focus—to get into the paint and finish.”

The Blue Devils were not able to get much going offensively to start off the second-half. A Gorecki three represented the team’s lone field goal in the first four minutes of the third quarter, with the Seawolves able to keep up with the Blue Devils the rest of the way to keep Duke’s advantage at 19. Gorecki finally started to get going in the game’s latter stages, scoring the Blue Devils’ first five points in the fourth-quarter to add to her six points in the third. And despite a solid attempt by a scrappy Alaska Anchorage team to cut its deficit, the Blue Devils were able to hold out the victory to finish off yet another undefeated preseason slate.

“Her mindset,” McCallie said of what changed between the first and second half for Gorecki. “Haley was not happy...she is a competitor, a great player...It is hard to be consistent. [The Seawolves] did a good job of attacking her—that was part of their strategy. And I think she understood that and at halftime made that adjustment.”

Duke now turns its focus to its regular season opener, where the team will travel to Evanston, Ill., in a matchup with Northwestern next Sunday at 2 p.m. 

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