In the battle to remain undefeated, the perennial contender Cardinals ultimately proved too strong for the upstart Blue Devils playing in their first conference game of the Kara Lawson era.
No. 2 Louisville bested Duke 73-49 Wednesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, handing Lawson her first loss as the Blue Devils’ head coach.
The story of the game was the three ball. While Louisville hit seven of its 16 attempts from deep, Duke struggled to heat up and didn’t hit its first three until seven minutes left in the third quarter, finishing 1-of-16 from beyond the arc.
“I thought we competed hard tonight, especially through the first three quarters,” Lawson said. “We just didn’t shoot it well. Got great looks, I thought, [but] missed a ton of easy ones: layups and open threes, shots that we’ve been making.”
Senior center Jade Williams led the Blue Devils (3-1, 0-1 in the ACC) with 13 points, as Duke kept the game competitive for much of the first half. But ultimately, the Blue Devils’ inability to execute offensively at the same rate as their Cardinal counterparts proved to be their downfall.
“I just think that [Louisville] was really aggressive,” Williams said. “I think they played really well. Their inside presence was also very [good]. I just think that next time we need to be more aggressive.”
Freshman point guard Vanessa de Jesus stumbled in her tough matchup against reigning ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans, with Evans putting her experience advantage to good use en route to 24 points and three steals. De Jesus finished with 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
The first quarter was very telling of how the game would shape up. Louisville (5-0, 1-0) started hot, shooting 5-of-5 from three in the quarter, while the Blue Devils missed all five of their 3-point attempts. Williams and sophomore guard Jaida Patrick gave the Cardinals trouble inside the paint to keep the game close, but junior guard Ahlana Smith knocked down three shots from deep in the period to lead Louisville to a 21-12 lead after 10 minutes.
In the second quarter, Duke changed up its approach on the defensive end in an attempt to limit Louisville’s 3-point barrage. The Blue Devil offense struggled to take care of the ball, however, allowing the Cardinals to maintain their double-digit lead for the majority of the quarter. Juniors Miela Goodchild and Onome Akinbode-James connected quite nicely on two transition plays, one part of Duke’s game that worked well. The Blue Devils scored 10 fast break points on the night compared to Louisville’s nine.
Duke came out of the locker room with a new fire to start the second half, as impressive interior defense by Williams and an offensive spark from de Jesus cut the Blue Devils’ deficit in half. That fire could only stay lit for so long, though, as turnovers and the Cardinals’ dominating offensive depth kept Duke from a real shot at taking the lead. A sweet double move, fadeaway jumper from freshman guard Hailey Van Lith over de Jesus to put Louisville ahead 49-34 at the end of the third quarter seemed to be the dagger the visiting squad needed.
“I told our group after the game, ‘When you have nights like that, you have to be able to play your defense at a really high level and give yourselves a chance,’” Lawson said of her team's offensive struggles. “I don’t think it was anything specific. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough tonight.”
Louisville’s suffocating defense kept Duke’s offense at bay throughout the second half, with the fourth quarter proving to be just another 10 minutes for the Cardinals to expand their lead. The Blue Devils had 18 turnovers by game’s end, with those giveaways leading to 23 easy Cardinal points on the other end, something that Duke could not replicate.
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“That’s always what they do—pressure the ball. [Ball handling] is something we worked on a couple days with all our guards,” Lawson said. “All of our guards need to keep growing in that area and handle the pressure better.”
This was by no means a poor performance from Duke. There’s only so much one can do against the No. 2 team in the nation, but this game will provide Lawson with much to build on in the future. The Blue Devils continue ACC play Sunday at 3 p.m. at Miami.