Many say that Cameron Indoor Stadium is a magical place.
When Duke hit the floor Thursday night in its matchup against Iowa, that magic enchanted fans and players alike in their night of victory. Though the Blue Devils notched their first top-10 win of the Kara Lawson era by defeating No. 9 Iowa 79-64, early plays didn’t always point to a big triumph. The Hawkeyes secured four baskets within the first two minutes of the game to Duke’s singular jumper. At first, it seemed as if the team wasn’t ready for the premier contest. Yet, 30 seconds later, that narrative took a 360-change with a colossal change in energy for Duke as it headed for the lead. In 40 minutes of putting up a sweat and playing hard, the Blue Devils went from the underdogs to the kings of the court, exploiting Iowa for everything it brought onto the hardwood.
“Our expectation is to compete with everyone that we play. That’s the expectation,” head coach Kara Lawson said at the post-game media conference. “I don’t know that we’ll beat everybody we play, but the expectation is to compete. And so that’s just our program, that’s what it’s always going to be. When we go into a game, we expect to compete.”
Anyone who watched the game knows that Duke did precisely that and more. Though the Blue Devils put on an impressive offensive show, racking up more than 70 points for their seventh contest in a row and holding the lead for the bulk of the contest, where they shined the most was through capitalizing on Iowa’s shoddy offensive performance.
Analysts ranked the Hawkeyes so high up on their list due to the magnitude of skill their starting five is known to have. With headliners on its roster, such as the No. 2 player in her recruiting class, Caitlin Clark, it’s clear why many people expected Iowa to continue the dominance it’s been registering all season. Yet, a quick look at last night’s stats shows that the Hawkeyes didn’t have many different contributors on the court besides their starting five. While Iowa scored two points off the bench, the Blue Devils had 29 points supplied by players who didn’t start. If a Hawkeye got tired, Duke could quickly maximize on Iowa’s small-ball lineup, either by stealing the ball or blocking, which the team did with much ease this match—recording 12 and four, respectively.
However, the Hawkeyes’ lack of depth was just one facet of Duke’s taking away of the game. Though the team only dropped one spot in the AP Poll from week three to week four, the Duke-Iowa game was their first battle in two weeks after canceling three games due to positive COVID-19 tests within their program. While the Hawkeyes were out of competition during that time, the Blue Devils were continuously improving, registering three substantial victories. It was evident the team was working hard from game start to finish. Day-Wilson was one player who saw an immense amount of improvement across Duke's last three matches—going 10-of-18 in her from 3-point range before making 4-of-7 attempts at the line against the Hawkeyes.
“I’ve been practicing on my 3-point shot a lot,” Day-Wilson said. “I’m getting the results I want, but when [opponents] start closing in on my three, you know denying me and stuff, I have to find other ways to just get going and get my teammates, but I think my teammates helped me get going with that.”
Day-Wilson’s offensive contributions in this contest were undoubtedly one of the most significant factors that led to which team was on top. Thanks to her efficiency in adding four treys, Duke totaled six for the night on a 28.6% success mark, while the Hawkeyes only managed three on 19 attempts. The team sported similar field goal percentages, 40% for the Hawkeyes and 44.1% for Duke. Whichever team could add more threes would take the lead because each roster remained consistently aggressive on defense. If a player couldn’t get to the paint for an easy basket, their adaptability to shoot from anywhere in the court would provide the score their team needed.
Another place that the Blue Devils excelled in preventing Iowa from taking back the contest after getting bested by Duke in the first half was through fouling. The Hawkeyes are notorious for their success at the free-throw line, evident through their 9-of-10 made attempts this match and 86.5% mark from the charity stripe throughout the season. The Blue Devils’ greatest strength was preventing fouls on their part. Though the team played a superb offensive game, they won the game by avoiding Hawkeye free throws. The Blue Devils only registered two fouls in the first half and nine in the second, nothing compared to Iowa’s 19 fouls—a good number of which were in the last few minutes of play. The Hawkeyes were undoubtedly attempting to get a Blue Devil foul so that they could shine at the free-throw line, yet Duke was just too unrelenting and maximized every one of its mistakes.
Though Iowa was clearly not playing its A-game this match, the Blue Devils’ ability to come up on top indicates that this team is underrated. Expect to see more magic coming from Duke as it takes on another few nationally notable teams next, starting with Penn this Sunday at 1 p.m and No. 1 South Carolina Dec. 15 for its next ranked match.
“I said this at the start of the year—our community is going to fall in love with our team,” Lawson said. “And as the games go on, I think you’re going to see more people coming to the games because how can you not love the way this group plays together? The combination of athleticism and skill, how dedicated they are to the defensive end.”
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Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.