After 361 days, we can finally say it: Mikayla Boykin is back.
The redshirt freshman point guard returned from her nearly year-long hiatus from game action in a dominant 66-38 win against UNLV Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Boykin suffered a season-ending ACL tear Dec. 10, 2017 in a runaway game against Winthrop. She made her season debut to a roaring crowd Thursday with three minutes left in the first quarter.
“[It was] very nice to have Mikayla back,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “You could see the difference of a creative point guard and her ability to see the floor and help other players as well.”
Once Boykin came into the game, she immediately made her presence felt. On her first defensive possession back, she tipped a pass out of bounds, then dove on the floor to tie the ball up and give Duke possession. When she scored her first basket off a baseline drive, the crowd went wild again. In spite of Boykin’s energy, though, both teams started the game off relatively slowly. The Lady Rebels (1-6) struggled to get anything going offensively in the absence of their ailing leading scorer, senior center Katie Powell. UNLV shot just 6-for-26 from the floor in the first half and airballed at least three shots. But the Blue Devils’ sloppy play let UNLV stay in the game, committing 15 turnovers in the half.
“If you’re going to turn the ball over 15 times in a half—I mean, come on,” McCallie said. “You have to send a message that that is unacceptable. We are going to stare that right in the face and move the ball better and find each other and take care of the ball better. That’s what good teams do.”
A pair of free throws from Lady Rebel guard Nikki Wheatley trimmed Duke’s lead to 14-13 midway through the second quarter. The Blue Devils (6-3) responded with neat finishes at the rim by freshman guard Miela Goodchild and sophomore forward Jade Williams and back-to-back jumpers from junior forward Leaonna Odom. Even with that run, Duke entered the intermission only up 25-17 despite shooting more than 20 percent better from the field than UNLV.
That would soon change, as Boykin’s play sparked an explosive third quarter for the Blue Devils. She hit her first triple of the year and notched three assists, including a flashy one-handed bounce pass to Odom on the break. Odom finished off the layup through the foul. At one point, Duke scored nine straight points in just a two-minute stretch. The Blue Devils outscored the Lady Rebels 19-6 in the third period to extend their lead to 44-23 by the end of the quarter. From then on, it was all Duke. The Blue Devils outplayed UNLV everywhere on the court, locking it down on the perimeter and outrebounding 42-25.
Even with a brace on, Boykin played a dynamic game in her return, hounding the Lady Rebels in the backcourt on defense and penetrating into the lane on offense, often before kicking the ball to a wide open teammate. She finished the night with 11 points, five steals and a team-leading six assists in 20 minutes of play.
“It was just a joy being out there with my teammates,” Boykin said. “The energy, being out there having fun with my teammates was one of the best feelings in the world. I waited a year for this. Coaches, teammates, everyone pushed me in practice to make me become the player that I am, and I commend them for that.”
Four Blue Devils scored in double-digits, including 14 from Goodchild. The Australian torched UNLV from deep, converting four of her five attempts from downtown. Overall, Duke shot 7-for-11 from downtown. Most of those shots were wide open attempts, as Blue Devil shooters like Goodchild benefited from space created from Boykin’s drives to the rim.
“When she’s going to the basket, they’ll try to stop her,” Goodchild said. “Otherwise, she’ll go all the way.”
Duke will try to extend its three-game winning streak against No. 22 South Carolina at 2 p.m. Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils lost their only other matchup against a ranked team this season, a tight game against then-No. 21 Missouri. Surely, Duke stands a better chance with their star point guard Boykin in the lineup, especially against a Gamecock squad that also hasn't beaten a ranked team this season.
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