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Duke women's basketball suffers first loss to Virginia in 19 years

<p>Leaonna Odom, alongside Haley Gorecki, will be a key playmaker for the Blue Devils this season.</p>

Leaonna Odom, alongside Haley Gorecki, will be a key playmaker for the Blue Devils this season.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Coming off a huge win against rival North Carolina, Duke looked to keep that momentum rolling against a team it had not lost to in more than 19 years.

But the Blue Devils’ 26-game win streak against Virginia came to a crashing end Sunday afternoon, when the Cavaliers defeated their counterparts from Durham 53-47 at John Paul Jones Arena.  Duke was unable to contain Virginia’s backcourt duo of Dominique Toussaint and Jocelyn Willoughby, who combined for 34 of the Cavaliers’ 53 points. Willoughby led the way with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Toussaint followed suit with 14 points of her own.

“Obviously a really physical, blue-collar game,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It is really important in this game that you are able to be successful and win ugly as they say. It was a low-scoring game, it was a defensive game…Willoughby for them was truly the difference in terms of the way she played and attacked.”

Haley Gorecki posted a well-rounded statline for the Blue Devils (11-12, 3-8 in the ACC) with 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals, but also shot a measly 5-of-16 from the floor and turned the ball over eight times. 

“I had eight turnovers—I cannot really talk about too many positive things,” Gorecki said when asked how she positively impacts the team in different ways. “That is what lost us the game—eight turnovers. I cannot have eight turnovers for a leader on this team. I cannot really talk about anything good.”

Duke outrebounded Virginia (10-14, 4-7) 33-31, but a combination of 21 total turnovers and 16 fouls proved too costly for the team to overcome—the Cavaliers attempted 19 free-throws to the Blue Devils’ five.

Duke was down by just one point with five minutes remaining in the game, and with 4:30 left junior forward Leaonna Odom hit a layup to put the Blue Devils up one. But two consecutive buckets by Toussaint and Willoughby following that score gave the Cavaliers a lead they would not relinquish. After that Odom layup, five garbage-time points represented Duke’s only scoring the rest of the way.

“At that point you just got to make plays—offensive rebounds, putbacks, getting to the foul line,” McCallie said regarding her team’s inability to score down the stretch. “Those are a big part of it. We cannot just execute and hope for that perfect shot. We have got to find a way to do the intangibles, so what we needed was free-throw line, putbacks, second shots and things of that nature...we have got to control the game and I felt some of our fouls put them in a good situation.”

The first quarter started slowly and sloppily, with both squads combining for 14 turnovers and only 16 total points during the first 10 minutes. Virginia made up nine of those giveaways, but the Blue Devils were unable to ever take advantage. Duke shot a meager 3-for-11 from the field in the quarter, and an Erica Martinsen three gave the Cavaliers a 9-7 edge heading into the second period. 

Scoring picked up in the second quarter, with Gorecki and Virginia’s Dominique Toussaint trading 3-pointers within the first 60 seconds. The contest went back and forth for much of the period, and a Jocelyn Willoughby three with 13 seconds left in the half knotted up the score at 23. Nevertheless, Faith Suggs would barely beat the halftime buzzer with a trey of her own, and the Blue Devils led 26-23 heading into the locker room.

Duke held that edge for the large majority of the third quarter, leading 34-29 with just over two minutes remaining in the period. It was then, however, that the Cavaliers started to make their run. 

First, Willoughby hit an and-one to cut Virginia’s deficit to two. Just over thirty seconds later, a Lisa Jablonowski corner three put the Cavaliers ahead. Another Willoughby lay-in extended Virginia’s lead to 37-34, but a tough putback by Jade Williams with five seconds left in the quarter cut the Blue Devils’ deficit to one heading into the final period. 

In those final 10 minutes, however, Duke proved unable to pull one out in crunch time yet again.

“We have had many of these games,” McCallie said. “Many, many close games. And many, many opportunities. And some of the time we were excellent, made some plays, executed. But at the same time, too, there were critical times when we did not. So big lessons, and credit Virginia for hitting their free-throws down the stretch and doing what they had to do to get the game.”

Duke will aim to get back on track when it returns home to play Virginia Tech Thursday, with a much-anticipated roadtrip to No. 1 Notre Dame looming seven days later.