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Duke women's basketball shows off roster depth in wallop of Winthrop

Senior forward Imani lewis was one of several Duke players to make significant contributions off the bench.
Senior forward Imani lewis was one of several Duke players to make significant contributions off the bench.

That really couldn’t have gone much better.

Head coach Kara Lawson’s Blue Devils stormed to a season-opening 95-39 win against Winthrop Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium and from the first few moments it became clear that this unit, despite being made up mostly of transfers and new additions, is a cohesive group. And perhaps more notably, the strength in this squad is not just in the starting five but in the substantial depth Lawson has at her disposal.

Confidence was the name of the game for Duke both on the offensive and defensive ends, as Lexi Gordon’s 17 points and five 3-pointers, in addition to Vanessa de Jesus’ eight assists and Celeste Taylor’s 11 points, highlighted the contributions from the starting five. Much to the excitement of Blue Devil fans, though, is the fact that 47 of the Blue Devils’ 95 points came from players that started on the bench.

Wisconsin transfer Imani Lewis, junior Nyah Green and senior Miela Goodchild led the charge of bench points, with their 16, 11 and 10 points, respectively, contributing heavily to Duke’s large win margin. Lewis was particularly impressive, with her commanding presence in and around the offensive and defensive glass proving to be crucial in shutting down Winthrop’s attacks and stuffing its defense. Early in the fourth quarter, a series of near-miss layups and put-backs from Taylor culminated in a confident bucket by Lewis, who rose inches above the nearest Eagle defender to confidently put the ball through. It was a trend that extended beyond just Lewis, too, with Shayeann Day-Wilson’s five pinpoint assists contributing heavily to the Blue Devil bench's dominance.

“We want to play a lot of people,” Lawson said. “If I see someone need a blow, there's someone else on the bench that can come in and keep that pace high. So [what] we emphasize is just play hard, sprint hard, and then know that you'll get back in when it's your turn to go again.”

Lawson should be very satisfied with the hustle and pace Duke exhibited tonight. From the tenacious off-ball movements of Taylor, to de Jesus’ playmaking, to Lewis’ relentless backboard presence, the Blue Devils used their depth well in preparation for a tough game slate that will involve three games in six days. Even if they aren’t out-and-out starters, there’s eternal value in the reliable rotation player and if tonight was any indication, Duke’s bench options are just that: reliable.

“I have confidence in my team, but we're never going to go 100% from the field,” Lewis said. “So my whole thing is cleaning up the mess.”

For Lewis, it’s just as much about being stellar as it is about being around—available for the rebound or putback or screen. Any solid team needs players like that: workhorses that can come in and change a game because they’re tenacious and capable. Duke showed off its depth tonight, and even amid frequent substitutions and the integration of transfers and freshman, by and large the unit looked cohesive and strong. The fourth quarter even saw Blue Devil debuts for freshman Lee Volker and graduate student Jiselle Havas. It may not have made a difference in the game’s outcome, but the fact that they saw game time and Duke looked strong is encouraging and once again showcased the immense depth at Lawson’s disposal.

Tuesday’s game may not have been the most difficult Duke will play nor its most tactically or physically difficult, but it bodes well for the future that almost half of the team’s points didn’t even come from the starters.

“I just think I'm willing to do whatever it takes just to make this team successful,” Lewis said. “Because, for me, when my team is successful, I'm successful.”

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