The pendulum of momentum has finally swung in the direction of the Blue Devils over the past two weeks.
On the heels of an impressive road victory against Miami Sunday, Duke marched into the Steel City and took care of business to the tune of a 73-56 road win against a struggling Pittsburgh squad. The Blue Devils had the upper hand from the tip, as an injury-riddled Pittsburgh was no match for a Duke team that has found its stride in recent contests.
With Haley Gorecki putting up 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds to go along with Leaonna Odom’s 20 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, Duke established an early lead and pulled away in the third quarter to win its third consecutive outing. The Blue Devils' cohesiveness as a unit was on full display Thursday night, impressing a coaching staff that has known what this team could accomplish.
"Just a team effort, people leading when they need to lead and taking turns leading," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "It’s always a good sign when people can take turns leading, as Haley did, as Leaonna did, as Jade [Williams] did."
Duke (14-10, 8-5 in the ACC) clearly had the superior roster, as Pittsburgh (4-20, 1-12) had only eight players appear in the contest due to a tidal wave of injuries. The Blue Devils got off to their best start in conference play so far, as in seemingly the blink of an eye Duke held a commanding 22-6 lead late in the first quarter.
Gorecki was a major reason for the fiery start, as the graduate student made Pittsburgh pay with 12 first-quarter points without a miss. The Panthers deployed a 2-3 zone that the Blue Devils exploited time after time, as cutters and penetration opened up the wings and corners for consistent open looks.
While Pittsburgh would later fight back behind an impressive performance on the offensive glass, the Blue Devils never let their lead dip below six for the duration of the contest. Coming out of the halftime locker room, Duke ensured victory with a 21-7 dismantling in the third quarter. This stretch was buoyed by Odom, who knocked down multiple corner jumpers in addition to key transition buckets.
All season long, Odom has been very comfortable taking mid-range shots off the bounce, and this unique aspect of her skillset clicked in the third period. Odom did a fantastic job of playing off two feet and staying patient when reading the defense.
Once again, Kyra Lambert and Mikayla Boykin ran Duke's offense to perfection, with 10 assists and only three turnovers between the two. Having both veteran guards back and healthy gives the Blue Devils depth, toughness and leadership in the backcourt. Duke has improved dramatically against zone defenses this season, with ball movement and motion resulting in kick outs and cross-court lasers to shooters all around the perimeter.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Mikayla," McCallie said regarding Duke’s exemplary ball movement. "Mikayla gets out there and gets six assists and one turnover, and she’s thinking about the whole so much. Haley had her seven assists tonight, so when you have people out there that are getting assists, that just makes everything easier, and obviously you can score more points.”
The Blue Devils played at a fast pace Thursday night with 22 total assists, sharing the ball and finding shooters in the corners. The Panthers were somehow unaware of any Duke players that were ready to catch and fire from either corner, with Odom and Miela Goodchild both exploiting Pittsburgh’s tendency to overhelp on drives.
On the other end of the court, Duke hounded Pittsburgh constantly, forcing 24 turnovers and holding the Panthers to 7.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils switched in and out of a zone frequently, confusing Pittsburgh’s guards. While Pittsburgh was able to pound the ball inside in spurts, Duke’s consistent activity in the backcourt defensively did not allow the tempo to be in favor of the Panthers.
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For the second straight conference road game, the Blue Devils were able to nearly empty the bench in the latter stages of a blowout win. The win against Pittsburgh marks the third straight double-digit victory for Duke, and it may be a sign that these Blue Devils have solved their road dilemma that plagued them earlier in their conference slate. This could prove to be massive for Duke, as its final three regular season contests are away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Next up for the Blue Devils is a date with No. 14 Florida State at home Sunday afternoon. In what would be a resumé boosting victory, Duke will need an A+ performance to win its fourth straight game.