For the majority of games this season, the Blue Devils held a height advantage over their opponents.
In its 74-55 victory Sunday afternoon against Pittsburgh, Duke utilized that height advantage early and often en route to a successful game in the post for a pair of Blue Devil starters. Sophomore Jade Williams finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks while freshman Onome Akinbode-James added for six points, five boards and a pair of blocks.
“We want to be super aggressive…. We’ve got to get the ball inside-out,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “When you’ve got Jade rolling and demanding the ball, and Onome working some things out, that helps us so much so we can play inside-out ball all the time.”
The strong post presence allowed freshman Miela Goodchild to go 6-of-9 from deep and finished with 20 points.
In the first quarter alone, Williams contributed three low-post baskets, including one off an offensive rebound.
To give the Blue Devils a 30-28 lead in the second quarter, Williams posted up her defender and sealed the paint to score an easy layup.
“Positioning is incredibly important. I think it’s mostly timing though. I have to be able to read off of Haley, or Miela, or Jayda’s drives,” Williams said. “It was an easy seal because I knew she was coming down the middle, they were going to rise, so I just slipped and sealed on the inside. It’s mostly timing, though.”
With a post presence and a 6-foot-3 frame, Akinbode-James is equipped to convert under the basket. But she is quietly adding a midrange game to her repertoire, which eventually could lead to the Nigerian-born forward shooting 3-pointers.
After hesitating on her first potential midrange jump shot attempt, one that she did not eventually take, Akinbode-James had room again to shoot from just around the charity stripe. This time, the freshman nailed the shot for her second basket of the game.
Akinbode-James and Williams played together often throughout the victory.
“Onome is really fun to play with,” Williams said. “On offense she’s really good, like our high-post high-low actions are pretty good. It’s coming together and I think we’re going to be pretty strong continuing the season.”
At the end of the first half, the Blue Devils held a 21-12 rebounding advantage. Duke’s eight offensive boards equaled the Panthers eight rebounds on its defensive end, which is a recipe for success.
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Akinbode-James led the team with five rebounds at halftime while Williams added four.
In the second half, Pittsburgh stifled the forward duo as the game pace slowed down.
With just over four minutes remaining in the third period, Williams received the ball in the post and was quickly doubled. That left Odom open on the adjacent block to receive the Williams’ pass for an easy two points.
“We really should be finding each other now, really trying to groove and find out where people are and sharing the basketball,” McCallie said. “But inside is really important, and when Jade makes a statement in there and gets aggressive, it just changes the dynamic.”
After receiving the ball in the short corner on the opposite side to her bench, Williams used a quick move to drive past her defender and get fouled going up. The center split her two free throws from the charity stripe.
“She’s a lot bigger than us, got longer arms than us. When she gets great seals, it’s easier to score points,” Pittsburgh (9-14, 0-9) head coach Lance White said of Williams. “You’ve got to pick your poisons and we were trying to chase Gorecki and the shooters around. If we were going to give something up, then we were going to make her make shots.”
Williams began the final period with a short jumper from inside the paint to extend the team’s lead to 12. A few possessions later, Williams was back in the scorebook with an open layup off the fast break with a pass from Gorecki.
Williams put the final touches on a double-digit home victory with a layup off a Gorecki pass and blocked a Pittsburgh’s Jasmine Whitney corner 3-point attempt.
When Akinbode-James plays down in the post, Williams spreads the court and switches with her teammate at the high post. Williams is slowly incorporating her midrange jump shot into the mix.
“Coach [and I] have had this talk before. She’s comfortable with me shooting the ball and I’m definitely trying to incorporate it into my game just a little at a time,” Williams said. “I’m not going to just come out and just throw up shots…. That’s a comfortable shot for me, I can knock it down.”
But after knocking down three of those shots against Boston College and facing up against the Panthers, the sophomore will be showing this side of her game more often down the stretch of ACC play.
“She’s been hiding some things,” McCallie said. “She won’t be hiding those anymore.”