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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2020 — No. 6: Duke women's basketball surges into contention with late-season tear

Haley Gorecki led the Blue Devils on a second-half tear for the ages.
Haley Gorecki led the Blue Devils on a second-half tear for the ages.

As 2020 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils. Check out the rest of the top 10 here.

Coming in at No. 6: Duke women’s basketball began the 2019-20 season in disappointing fashion, but won 11 of its last 14 games to storm back into contention.

On Jan. 9, Duke was tied for second-to-last in the ACC. By the end of March 1, the Blue Devils clinched third place in the conference.

Despite Duke’s 1-3 ACC record Jan. 9, it actually had a positive point differential in conference play at that point, including a close loss at then-No. 7 Louisville. And as ACC play continued, it was clear that the Blue Devils were showing a mettle they hadn’t had during an incredibly difficult nonconference slate.

On Jan. 12, Duke took down Virginia Tech in overtime. Five days later, the Blue Devils notched their first win against Notre Dame in over two decades. A heartbreaker of a loss at Clemson threatened to derail the comeback train entirely, but a blowout of Syracuse and strong win against Georgia Tech got it back on the tracks.

With Haley Gorecki and Leaonna Odom in their final college seasons, and Kyra Lambert graduating with her Master's from Duke after the season, the 2019-20 campaign was one last hurrah with those three at the helm for the Blue Devils. So after the aforementioned Clemson loss, they kicked it into high gear—from the Syracuse win through the end of the regular season, Gorecki averaged 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.9 steals; Odom averaged 14.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals on 57% shooting from the floor; and Kyra Lambert shot 45% from the field and 41% from three along with suffocating point-of-attack defense.

Duke nearly pulled off the huge upset in its first meeting with then-No. 7 N.C. State Feb. 2, falling 63-60. The Blue Devils then reeled off three uncompetitive wins before welcoming then-No. 14 Florida State to Cameron Indoor on national television Feb. 16.

A neck-and-neck game came down to the last possession, in which the Seminoles' last-second desperation shot rimmed off. This wasn’t just a landmark win for Duke—it nearly guaranteed a top-four seed in the conference tournament and, for the first time since the preseason, the Blue Devils received votes in the AP poll.

After a win against Virginia four days later, Duke bused over to Raleigh for another nationally-televised game Feb. 24, this one being a revenge opportunity against the Wolfpack. The Blue Devils never trailed, and behind Gorecki’s 24 points and game-sealing jumper with 19 seconds left clinched their statement win of the season. And just like that, they were in the driver’s seat for third place in the ACC.

A loss to the Hokies Feb. 27 made things slightly interesting, but a 19-point win against North Carolina on the last day of the regular season sealed it—Duke, which was ranked seventh in the ACC preseason poll, with 21-point losses to both Texas A&M and Northwestern during nonconference play, won 11 of its last 14 games and were getting a double-bye in the ACC tournament.

The Blue Devils were eventually upset by sixth-seeded Boston College in the ACC quarterfinals, and of course there was no NCAA tournament to prove themselves on a national stage. But still, Duke's late-season tear put the country on notice, and sent Gorecki, Odom and Lambert out in style.

READ MORE on Duke women’s basketball’s late-season surge:

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

Duke women's basketball upsets Florida State in Cameron thriller

Film room: How Duke women's basketball has turned it around

MAKING A STATE-MENT: Duke women's basketball upsets No. 8 NC State in Raleigh

Duke women's basketball completes sweep of North Carolina in regular season finale

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