Behind a flurry of impressive performances, the Blue Devils rolled to their second straight win to begin the season.
Duke took down Western Carolina 83-56 Sunday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium, continuing its strong start to the Kara Lawson era. Graduate transfer Sara Anastasieska led the way with 23 points, while freshman Vanessa de Jesus added 17 and senior center Jade Williams notched nine points as well as career-highs with eight assists and 15 rebounds.
“A lot of good performances all the way around again, which is what I like to see on the offensive end for our group,” Lawson said. “So a solid win and I thought we got a little bit better today, [but] still a lot to work on.”
The game was all de Jesus to start, with the freshman point guard recording the first six points of the contest off two 3-pointers. She had 10 points by the end of the first quarter as the Blue Devils (2-0) shot out to a commanding 24-7 edge after 10 minutes of play.
De Jesus finished the first half a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, including 3-of-3 from deep. She notched all 17 of her points in the opening two periods.
The real fulcrum of the offense in the early going, however, was Williams. The 6-foot-5 center has spent the past couple of seasons looking out of place on the block, but she’s been a revelation so far this year as a short roller and on high ball screens. By the end of the first half, she had seven points, five rebounds and three assists, looking very comfortable facing the basket and as a playmaker from the elbow.
“I thought [Williams’] aggressiveness on the glass was key for us,” Lawson said. “So, I told her after the game on Wednesday, that she should be flirting with a triple-double almost every game. She has the ability to do that, and tonight she did. She's somebody that's so versatile and very skilled, and I thought she was really good for us today.”
Western Carolina (0-2) struggled to get anything going offensively, as its motion-heavy offense never consistently broke the Blue Devils’ “switch nothing, go over screens” defense.
It became clear as the game went on, however, that while Duke’s defense looked similar to the season-opener against Longwood, its offensive strategy had changed. Gone was the focus on pick-and-rolls and baseline cuts, instead replaced by drive-and-kicks and motion behind the arc.
The Blue Devils came out of halftime ready to put the game away, hitting three straight threes, including two from wing Miela Goodchild. The sharpshooting wing finished the game with 14 points while reaffirming her status as an excellent defender as well.
The rest of the team was a bit sloppier on offense, including some inexplicably-missed bunnies and poor passes, but still showed improvement from the season-opener. Duke totaled nine turnovers Sunday after coughing the ball up 16 times Wednesday.
“I thought our group as a whole took care of [the ball] really well,” Lawson said. “[De Jesus] has the ball in her hands a lot, and she only had one turnover, played almost 38 minutes, and that's a high volume of handling the ball when you're the point guard…. It's important—we can't give away possessions, and so we really want to keep [turnovers] as low as possible.
“That's going to be really important for us moving forward, especially in our next game, in terms of pressure and forcing turnovers—we're going to have to be secure with the ball.”
The Blue Devils now look forward to a matchup against East Carolina Dec. 5.
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