GREENSBORO, N.C.—Playing in the first round of the conference tournament for the first time since 1993—against a team it's never seen in the postseason—the Duke women’s basketball program was thrust into a brand new environment.
The 11th seeded Blue Devils would continue their strong streak and ride productive 3-point shooting to collect their fourth straight victory 86-64 against No. 14 seed Pittsburgh Wednesday night in the opening round of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Duke would connect on 12 treys on the game and used a 20-8 run in the third quarter to pull away and improve to 11-0 all time against the Panthers. The Blue Devils had six players with at least eight points in a balanced scoring effort, led by Miela Goodchild with 19.
"Our team just tightened up defensively," head coach Joanne P McCallie said. "We made some switches, did some different things we needed to do. It was excellent to take that and turn it over very quickly. You just have to be able to do that in games. Stop runs, make runs, and also make some adjustments."
Duke (15-14) came out firing from the outset, nailing 4-of-7 attempts from three in the first quarter. Pittsburgh would not let its sharpshooting opponent outwork them though, and used a barrage of buckets in the lane and a 10-to-5 rebounding advantage to hold the Blue Devil lead to just three after one period of play.
"We were talking about how it's definitely going to be a driving type of game and games, just because the shots weren't falling for us for shoot around," junior Haley Gorecki joked. "But, I guess we just got all of our bad shots out in shoot around."
The last time out for these two squads was a 74-55 win for Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium back in February. In that game Gorecki posted the first Blue Devil triple double since 2014 with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.
The second quarter would be a similar back and forth affair with neither team able to gain an edge. The Panthers would take a 30-29 lead with just over four minutes left in the half, but would fail to score over their next four minutes. Duke could only stretch the lead to six, however, and a late lay in by Danielle Garven would cut the margin to four with the teams headed to the locker room.
The game started off sloppy with 19 combined turnovers in the first half, but both teams were able to steady the ship despite both teams being ranked below 200th in turnover margin for the season.
The Panthers (11-19) were led by Garven and her 16 points, as well as Jasmine Whitney, who chipped in 12 points and six assists. The two helped lead their team to a respectable shooting night, but couldn’t stop a Blue Devils team that scored its most points since a 92-90 double-overtime defeat at Boston College Jan. 31.
Coming out of the break, Duke relied on junior Leaonna Odom, who scored two quick baskets to get the ball rolling. Before head coach Lance White could blink, the Blue Devils stretched the lead to 12 in just under three minutes of game action. By the end of the third quarter, Duke had stretched the lead to 18.
"I thought we played off each other well, I thought we executed different defenses well, and I thought we rebounded more aggressively. These tournaments are all about the ball. Pursuit of the ball, who has the ball, possession of the ball. I think that really was key for us," McCallie said.
Goodchild set the Duke record for 3-pointers in a season by a freshman with a triple to begin the fourth quarter, her 73rd of the season. The Australia native ended the game 5-for-8 beyond the arc after hitting three in the first half.
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The Panthers weren’t able to find any momentum in the final period of play either, and the Goodchild three and a Gorecki and-one unofficially ended Pittsburgh’s season.
"I really appreciated Haley's attack," McCallie said. "Every time she caught the ball she was a threat and then some looking to create. Miela did her work spotting and playing off each other with her teammates."
The Blue Devils won’t have much time to rest, however, as they will return to the Coliseum on Thursday to do battle with sixth-seeded Florida State at 8 p.m. Duke visited the Seminoles on the road back in January, losing a close one 66-62. The winner of tomorrow’s match up will move on to play No. 3 seed N.C. State.