It had been 655 days since the Cameron Crazies had seen a ranked upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Six-hundred-sixty-five days since Duke had announced its resurgence to national contention.
And the Crazies made their impatience known.
The Blue Devils beat the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes 79-64 at Cameron Indoor, buoyed by the most fervent home crowd Duke has seen since the last time it upset a ranked opponent on Coach K Court, a two-point win over then-No. 14 Florida State. Point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson scored a team-high 19 points off the bench on 6-for-11 from the field and 4-for-7 from three with four assists and four steals to lead Duke. Off-ball guard Celeste Taylor joined her in double-figures, with a 17-point, 13-rebound double-double on 6-for-12 shooting with two assists and two blocks.
"It was definitely nice to see [the Crazies], especially just because we always see them there on on the boys' side. It was really special," said Taylor. "And I know it meant a lot to each and every one of us as a team that they were out there supporting us, because it definitely helped having them there doing what they do. Just having that environment and playing in an environment like that, I think it definitely gives us a lot more energy and just wanting to show out and put on for our school and for the fans."
The Blue Devils held Iowa superstar point guard Caitlin Clark to just four points on 2-for-9 from the field in the first half without a three, a huge reason why they were able to become the first unranked team to beat a top-10 squad this season.
"We just wanted to guard [Clark] within our system," said Duke head coach Kara Lawson. "Sometimes in transition, we got other people on her too. I wouldn't say we did anything special specifically to her. Our players just knew the type of threat she was, knew her tendencies, and then just tried to do the best job that they could. And she missed some shots night she normally makes—she's really good player. But I thought her shots were challenged. And that's what we were hoping for."
Center Jade Williams helped lead the charge, scoring five consecutive Duke points in the opening minutes. Backup center Onome Akinbode-James followed in her stead, with the two combining for five of the Blue Devils’ first seven scores. Duke’s gameplan clearly called for targeting Iowa center and part-time turnstile Monika Czinano, who ranked in the 18th percentile in post-up defense last year. And Czinano couldn’t find a lick of space against Akinbode-James in the low post. Without being able to establish deep entry position or take her defender to the cup off the dribble, Czinano had nothing offensively, and Iowa’s offense—second-best in the country last year—slowed to a halt.
Iowa’s wings aren’t built to create much offense with the ball in their hands. McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin and off-ball guard Gabbie Marshall combined to shoot 43.4% from three last year on 10.4 attempts per game. But they don’t create offense; Clark is the engine. And as that internal motor refused to start, no matter how much the Hawkeyes tried to fix the pressure and let in more fuel, the engine wouldn’t go.
"We were out of sorts," Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. "Some of that probably was because of Duke's defense. I think they did a really good job. They're pretty big. But certainly, our timing was off, our ability to run our offense was not there tonight. Caitlin had a rough shooting night, and then she took some really hard threes though. And she's got to... quit taking them. And she just kept going and going. You want to have shooters have a short memory, but that might have been a little too short tonight."
The Blue Devils (7-0) found their offense clicking as the ball kept moving. It still ran into trouble with turnovers, throwing away multiple transition opportunities as Blue Devils continued to struggle to connect on the fly. But as they forced the Hawkeyes (4-1) to defend around ball screens, and generated dribble penetration to collapse the Iowa defense and force rotations, the basket quickly opened.
In the first couple minutes, Iowa made the game seem like a formality, despite having to cancel its last three games due to positive COVID-19 tests in the program. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 6-2 lead with Duke starting 1-for-3 from the field and committing three turnovers in its first six possessions. Things changed immediately thereafter. The Blue Devil defense suddenly locked into place, with the Hawkeyes unable to punish Duke’s unders from beyond the arc, and seldom able to enter the post once Akinbode-James checked into the game. The Blue Devils were a +6 through the end of the half.
With the post locked up, Duke’s entire ball-screen defense was able to focus on Clark. The 2020-21 USBWA Co-Freshman of the Year received under coverage from the Blue Devils to start the game, something she’d normally be able to pull right up and shoot Duke out of. But she didn’t. And by the time she ended the first quarter 1-of-5 from the field, the Blue Devils had already secured the paint enough to focus on Iowa’s perimeter ball screen actions. Clark found hard hedges and full denials forcing the ball out of her hands and to Warnock and Martin.
Iowa scored just 12 points in the second quarter and four through the first six-and-a-half minutes of the third, and despite a second-half resurgence from Clark, Duke cruised its way to the first top-10 win of the Kara Lawson era.
"It was an amazing feeling," Day-Wilson said about celebrating with her teammates and the Crazies. "But there's still some more work to be done within our team, and this is only just the beginning. So just get ready and there's gonna be more big wins. We just have to stay locked-in and keep it rolling."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.