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Celeste Taylor and Duke depth propel Blue Devils past UNC-Wilmington

<p>Junior guard Celeste Taylor posted 16 points, six rebounds and three steals against UNC-Wilmington.</p>

Junior guard Celeste Taylor posted 16 points, six rebounds and three steals against UNC-Wilmington.

Cameron Crazies do not need to look further than their own backyard in Durham to experience Disney’s magic moments. In fact, one look at Duke's game against North Carolina-Wilmington Nov. 14 proves that there is magic in the air of Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

Like a Disney movie, the Blue Devils harmonized well with all the starters and the bench players playing their roles to near perfection. Yet, it was Celeste Taylor, as the star of this film with her celestial two-way production, combined with the guidance of  head coach Kara Lawson that fueled this 87-45 victory to defend their undefeated start to the season. 

Since tip-off, the Blue Devils never took their foot off the accelerator, zooming past the early 12-4 lead they established within the first few minutes of the game. With strong offensive contributions from senior sharpshooter Miela Goodchild and freshman Lee Volker off the bench with 18 and 11 points, respectively, and freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson running fast transition plays from time to time, the bench showed its dependability to allow Lawson to be flexible in her rotations. 

The same can be said when it comes to defense and rebounding with graduate student Amaya Finklea-Guity and senior Imani Lewis leading the boards with three blocks and 13 rebounds between the two of them. These contributions propelled Duke’s defense to hold the Seahawks to a 27.2% field goal percentage and 20% 3-point mark compared to Duke’s 45.3% and 36.7%. In total the bench produced a combined 51 points, 15 assists and 34 rebounds—highlighting the strength of the bench’s depth in this year’s roster. 

It is this depth from the bench that Lawson has faith in as they look to face tougher conference foes. 

“Our bench is going to play a critical role all season long for us,” Lawson said. “For us to have different players to go to, it's nice to have different players that are weapons off the bench on the offensive end. And we feel like we have a lot of players who can score double figures in a game. So I think our depth is very important. We're going to rely on it a lot.”

While the bench players played a vital role in the victory, it was junior Celeste Taylor who stole the spotlight. Scoring 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting with three steals and six rebounds, the three-time USA Basketball Gold Medalist hustled at every play, displaying her athleticism and basketball IQ that the stats sheet just cannot reflect. On offense, the 2019 McDonald’s All-American was constantly cutting into the key when she didn’t have the ball, and attacked the basket when she did have the rock, looking to drive in for a lay-up or a kick-out pass. While her role as a shooting guard entails constantly looking for opportunities to just score baskets, Taylor displayed her unselfish playmaking ability with no-look passes to an open Lexi Gordon and flashy dimes to center Jade Williams. While it is no question that Taylor can hoop on the offensive end, it is in defense where she brings out her love for the game. 

“It’s funny because I personally think I’m a defender before I’m an offensive player. I just love getting on the floor, love getting loose balls, love doing whatever I can to impact the game…whether that is getting rebounds, or getting steals, or passing to my teammates when they are wide open,” said Taylor. “I never looked at how many points I scored; I always was told when I was younger that the way I am going to get on the floor is defending.”

As such, the final buzzer of the game signaled another happy ending for the Blue Devils, who look to continue this win streak in their next matchup against Alabama in Fort Worth, Tex., Nov. 21. 

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