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Duke women's basketball's Shayeann Day-Wilson shows out against Alabama

Day-Wilson had 11 points and 3 assists in the win over the Crimson Tide.
Day-Wilson had 11 points and 3 assists in the win over the Crimson Tide.

Have you caught your breath yet?

Sunday’s clash at the Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, proved a much tighter affair than either Duke or Alabama fans predicted going in. The game, for a while, seemed business as usual–junior guard Celeste Taylor was running the floor, both teams’ defenses were air-tight and the Blue Devils were winning. Until they weren’t.

After extending their lead to 45-35 midway through the third quarter, the Blue Devils surrendered nine unanswered points and eventually fell behind at the quarter’s close for the first time since 6-5 in the opening minutes. It’s in moments like this, where a game doesn’t go to plan, that a team needs somebody to step up and grab it by the scruff of the neck to drag the team to a victory. Enter freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson.

Though Celeste Taylor justifiably received most of the plaudits for her 21-point performance on the day, Day-Wilson proved just as influential in seeing the game out and keeping Duke in it. The Ontario, Can., native wasn’t even in the starting lineup but came on as a substitute and registered an impressive 27 minutes, including an all-important showing in the second half. Her 11 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the line and three assists all proved vital in ensuring Duke left Fort Worth undefeated.

“I think it was six points,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “At one point there late in the fourth quarter, we had to play really, really well. We had to execute and we were able to do so. So I'm proud of the group for that.”

Day-Wilson was the embodiment of resiliency and one of the main vehicles for critical plays as Duke entered the treacherous and taxing final minutes of the game. Her free-throw consistency, a crucial block on Alabama’s final hail-mary send to the bucket from half-court and her aggressive pushes toward the basket all helped to round out what was a stellar day for the freshman and a remarkable fight-back by her team.

The Blue Devils scored 17 points from the line Sunday and Day-Wilson accounted for seven of those, including an all-important make late in the fourth quarter off of a defensive foul (before a couple late free-throws with a few seconds left, Duke only led by one). With milliseconds left on the clock, an Alabama player hurled the ball from half-court in hopeful search of a buzzer-beater, but Day-Wilson batted it down before it went even 10 feet. Her charging runs in and around the key forced the Crimson Tide to rack up fouls, helped Duke get into the bonus and gave the team plenty of attempts from the charity stripe. In a game that needed individual brilliance to come up trumps, Shayeann Day-Wilson showed up.

Much of the story around Lawson and Duke this season has been on the impact of transfers, such as Taylor, Elizabeth Balogun and Imani Lewis, but Day-Wilson has flown slightly under the radar. Despite already starting at point guard for the Canadian national team and entering this season as a top-50 recruit, the star power and impressive performances of Taylor and Lewis, among others, have snatched the season narrative. Day-Wilson firmly put herself in that narrative Sunday.

Though the term “breakout game” can be a little misleading, it’s an apt description for Day-Wilson’s performance against Alabama. She was there when called upon for free-throws and defense and provided a much-needed and aggressive creative spark against a rigid Alabama defense that caused 22 turnovers and out-rebounded the Blue Devils 32-30.

Despite the team’s abundance of newcomers, it’s been clear thus far that Duke is a cohesive unit with chemistry. If Taylor can keep up her ridiculous run of form, Balogun continues to be a defensive miser, Vanessa de Jesus remains an assist machine and the rest of the team grows and improves together, the Blue Devils will be in pole position for an impressive year. And, if Day-Wilson performs like she did in the second half against Alabama, she’s going to be yet another asset to this supremely talented Blue Devil roster.

She most certainly was Sunday.

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