You win some, you lose some.
Cameron Indoor Stadium played host once again to No. 15 Duke women’s basketball Wednesday evening, this time welcoming No. 1 South Carolina to the Blue Devils’ famed stomping ground. Despite an opening 3-pointer from senior Elizabeth Balogun, Duke fell behind due to a 17-0 run to close out the first half and just couldn’t recover. Though credit must be given to the marauding Gamecocks, the Blue Devils will be unhappy with the result and their relative inability to do what they’ve done best this season: make their shots.
Duke only notched seven points in the first quarter, with two of those from the line. The second quarter, while better, was still not enough for head coach Kara Lawson’s squad, as the team shot 29% from the field and trailed South Carolina by 16 at half-time. Though the Blue Devils actually outscored the Gamecocks in the second half and trailed by nine at the final whistle, they still only shot 34% from the field. Good teams are great teams because they stop other good teams; South Carolina did just that by forcing Duke to shoot from deep, dominating the rebound game and capitalizing on turnovers.
“We've got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” said Lawson. “We've got to do a better job at converting when we get transition opportunities. We missed some transition opportunities in both the first half and the second half.”
The second half was a big improvement on the first for Duke. The team pressed on the gas and went for the game, playing fast, high-tempo basketball in an effort to thunder punch and shock South Carolina. The Blue Devils held the Gamecocks all the way until 4:53 mark without a field goal in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to seven at one point, but just missed out on a comeback by the brilliance of South Carolina's Aliyah Boston and some fantastic physical defense in and around the paint.
“They're big,” said Duke junior Celeste Taylor. “They're big, they're athletic, from almost every position on the floor.”
It also didn’t help that many on this Blue Devil roster had somewhat of an off-night against the Gamecocks, save Shayeann Day-Wilson and Taylor, whom had 17 and nine points, respectively. Taylor shot 4-for-9 and was held short of her 14.4 points per game season average yet still ranked second on the team, eclipsed only by freshman sensation Day-Wilson, who nailed three 3-pointers and continued her pursuit of a starting berth. By and large, however, the team shot well below its standard and much of that can be attributed to a resolute and stingy South Carolina defense.
“They do a really good job of making sure you get one shot,” said Lawson. “So you get one chance. And if it doesn't go in, that's all you get.
“What that forces you to do is have to shoot efficiently against them the entire game,” added Lawson. “And so they did a good job in limiting us to one shot and then it turned us over. If you look at it from a possession standpoint, you're giving 19 possessions away and then turning it over 19 times, and then when you do get a possession, [we could shoot] only one time.”
Duke has been impressive this season, as its 8-0 record entering Wednesday’s game indicates, but oftentimes it's the best teams–the biggest Goliaths–that conclude David’s fairytale. If the Blue Devils were the David, South Carolina was the Goliath, but this one didn't end in David's favor. Lawson’s squad was frequently forced to launch from beyond the arc as opposed to driving to the glass. Big players like Balogun and Jade Williams rarely saw the ball in the key and were out-rebounded 44-26 by the Gamecocks, meaning opportunities for putbacks were few and far between.
Duke averaged 80.8 points and 48% from the field prior to Wednesday’s showdown, yet left Cameron Indoor with only 46 points and a 34% completion rate to its name. Of course, not every game is going to be a 80-point barn-burner, but Duke was uncharacteristically starved of scoring throughout this game and its normally efficient attack was comprehensively stifled.
Lawson’s team is evidently offensively talented and has the weapons to beat anybody, but South Carolina found a way to diffuse those weapons by forcing the Blue Devils out deep and beating them on the offensive and defensive glass.
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“We had great shots, great shots as a team, everyone had open looks,” said Taylor. “They just weren't falling and that happens in any game with anybody.”