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Duke women's basketball grinds out win, its first against Notre Dame since 1997

Despite an ugly box score, the Blue Devils left Cameron smiling Thursday night.
Despite an ugly box score, the Blue Devils left Cameron smiling Thursday night.

The last time Duke beat Notre Dame, only two of the current Blue Devils were alive. 

For most of Thursday night, it looked like the Fighting Irish were poised to add onto their 17-1 series record. After seizing the lead 31 seconds into the game, they held onto a 10-point lead for most of the night. 

A 9-0 run in the third quarter brought the Blue Devils within three points. Then in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, graduate guard Haley Gorecki's back-to-back 3-pointers and ensuing fast break layup brought the Duke deficit to just one.

Redshirt freshman guard Mikayla Boykin sunk a fast break layup with 32 seconds left to give the Blue Devils their first lead since 31 seconds into the game. Sophomore forward Onome Akinbode-James snatched the ball on the next possession, then Boykin scooped up a steal and called a timeout with 6.6 seconds left in front of a roaring Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd.

The Blue Devils outfought the Fighting Irish, climbing back from a record-worst offensive first quarter to beat Notre Dame for the first time in more than two decades. Thursday night's 50-47 win snapped a 15-game losing streak against Notre Dame that dated back to 1997.

"You just got to love it—you got to love grit," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

The Fighting Irish  (6-12, 1-5 in the ACC), historically a powerhouse in women’s college hoops, have slumped this season, struggling to replace their prior offensive firepower. The two-time national champions dropped out of the top-25 rankings in the second week of this season after being ranked for 234 consecutive weeks. 

Duke’s games have been nothing if not exciting lately. After a trio of nail-biting losses to Wake Forest, Louisville and Virginia, the Blue Devils cut off the five-game slide when they took down Virginia Tech in a tight game Sunday. 

The first quarter got off to a quick and messy start, with the Fighting Irish jumping out to a quick lead thanks to a junior center Mikayla Vaughn and freshman forward Sam Brunelle scoring six points each. 

With Notre Dame up 14-4 and Duke (9-8, 3-3) looking frantic on offense, the first quarter devolved into a scoreless commotion with neither team scoring for the second half of it—Duke throwing away its last possession of the quarter with an errant pass. Those four points are the fewest the Blue Devils have ever scored in the first quarter. 

The Blue Devils’ early struggles can be explained by the numbers: They only hit one of their 10 3-point attempts in the first half, while the Fighting Irish scored nine points off turnovers and 11 more off second chance points. Duke struggled to find an offensive rhythm—only Odom, who finished the first half with nine points, connected on more than one shot. 

“We made this game a lot harder than it needed to be," Gorecki said.

Odom came out firing in the second half, scoring on back-to-back plays to keep Duke within striking distance and hauling in crucial rebounds in the process. But it was sophomore guard Miela Goodchild's first 3-pointer of the night which capped Duke's 9-0 run that brought the crowd to their feet and made Notre Dame call a timeout. 

The Blue Devils, now down by three, were closer than they had been since the first quarter. 

The third quarter ended with them down by seven, but they resumed play with an energized crowd and a competitive game on their hands. Gorecki's eight straight points pulled Duke within one and drew Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw onto the court to call a timeout with seven minutes left to play.

The rest of the fourth quarter hovered back and forth, with Duke in striking distance but unable to pull even. With less than two minutes left, the Blue Devils trailed by three points, before Boykin's pair of buckets gave Duke its first lead since the opening minutes of the night.

The game ended 50-47, as Odom and Gorecki led the Blue Devils with 13 points each. Odom added seven rebounds and Gorecki tacked on nine, but they also combined for 11 turnovers. 

“It’s all about just getting stops," Boykin said. "Fourth quarter, we have that fourth quarter mentality and the grit to get stops is what we wanted to do."

Next up for the Blue Devils is a weekend trip to South Carolina, where they will face a struggling Clemson team fresh off a win against Pittsburgh. 

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