For the first time in program history, Duke women’s basketball would open ACC play against two undefeated top-10 opponents, a significant opportunity for a team searching for a signature win. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they’ll have to keep looking.
Head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s squad was unable to escape a scorching start from the Cardinals, and ultimately fell to No. 3 Louisville 73-51 Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium. After falling to No. 9 N.C. State on Thursday, Duke looked to gain an edge from the home crowd, but had troubles finishing all game. The loss marks the team’s first defeat at home this season and the second straight year with an 0-2 start to conference play.
"I liked the three quarters at N.C. State and the two quarters of the middle of this game, but there were three quarters, the fourth at N.C. State and the first and fourth here, that were very costly," Coach McCallie said. "We have lessons, we will learn them, and we will hit the road this week."
The spark for the preseason-favorite Cardinals came from Arica Carter, who scored 23 points on a career-high seven made threes. Asia Durr, the ACC’s second leading scorer was held to just 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting, but the talent was just too much for Duke. The Blue Devils were led by Leaonna Odom’s 16 points and seven rebounds, but poor shooting performances from the rest of the team put Duke’s shooting percentage at just 31 percent.
Louisville (14-0, 2-0 in the ACC) raced out of the gates and took a commanding 14-2 lead just four minutes into the game. Carter, whose career high for threes coming into the game was four, matched that during the run. The redshirt senior came into the game ranking fifth in the ACC for 3-point percentage, but was only averaging just less than two makes per game. The Blue Devils were able to grab some momentum back with the help of Odom and Haley Gorecki, but still found themselves down 18-11 at the end of the first.
Duke (8-6, 0-2) cut the lead to five at the start of the second and started to gain some confidence from a strong crowd, but two deep balls from Dana Evans and Carter pushed the Cardinal lead back to double digits at 35-23 when the half ended.
"Each game is up for grabs," Gorecki said on what she's trying to convey to her younger teammates. "The hustle plays and 50/50 balls. Every game is a battle, so you just have to come out ready to play."
Louisville has struggled this year after almost blowing double-digit leads in the second half to both Kentucky and North Carolina, but were ultimately able to dictate the pace of the second half to avoid letting the Blue Devils get close like their previous game against the Wolfpack, which featured multiple double-digit Duke comebacks.
"We got a little sloppy in the Carolina game in the second half, and we went away from what we'd been doing in the first half," Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said. "But, I thought tonight, especially if you look at the score by quarter, it's 11, 12, 13, and 15 for Duke. We did a very nice job, and we knew where shooters were."
In a back-and-forth third quarter, the Louisville lead was cut to single digits just once at 37-29, but the Blue Devils couldn’t get it any closer than that, hindered by 24 abysmal turnovers. The Cardinals came into Sunday averaging more than 20 forced turnovers over their previous eight games, an attack that turned into 24 points on those takeaways.
"You can't rush it, and you can't play fast," McCallie stressed. "When you're down eight with the ball, you need to slow down. That's a great position to be in, and not force something that might have a 10 percent chance of working and go for the higher probability."
In the fourth, Duke had multiple possessions with a chance to get back in striking distance, but another pair of threes from Carter and Evans put the game away for good.
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The Blue Devils will add to their already impressive travel log when they take a trip down to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are a team that could be competing with Duke for an NCAA tournament spot down the line and the outcome will certainly be a factor when March rolls around.
"There are great lessons in these games," McCallie said in regards to the challenge of ACC play. "It's not easy, it's not supposed to be easy. We will embrace it."