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Duke women basketball's bench propels the Blue Devils past Penn Quakers

Duke's bench was dominant in the game, outscoring Penn's bench 42-8.
Duke's bench was dominant in the game, outscoring Penn's bench 42-8.

The Blue Devils committed a sacrilege Sunday afternoon in the Cathedral of College Basketball in a 77-55 victory over non-conference opponent Penn. After taking down then No. 9 Iowa, Duke was poised to continue its undefeated start over the Ivy League program. While there were little doubts that the Blue Devils would emerge victorious, the Quakers exposed the many strengths and weaknesses of head coach Kara Lawson's roster ahead of the highly anticipated matchup against No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 15.

The opening minutes saw the Blue Devils start off strong with an 8-0 run through the first five minutes with “drive-and-kick” ball movement. Relying on physicality and spacing, guards Vanessa de Jesus and Celeste Taylor controlled the tempo of the first quarter to kick out laser passes to open teammates for easy baskets. The pace further helped graduate center Jade Williams and senior forward Elizabeth Balogun to exceed the 700 and 900 career point benchmarks respectively. Defensively, the team stayed focused in the first quarter to contain Penn’s sharpshooter Kayla Padilla to 1-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc, stunting the root of the Quakers' offense. This controlled offensive flow, combined with their suffocating defense, allowed Duke to blow out Penn 22-5 at the end of the first quarter. 

Yet, since the second quarter, the Quakers revitalized their defense, forcing Duke to commit 15 turnovers throughout the game. The loss of the first quarter’s momentum led to foul troubles for graduate players Amaya Finklea-Guity and Williams, and the usual offensive spark from the starters went cold. In fact, Duke was outscored in the second and fourth quarter 18-20 and 18-19, respectively. 

“I was pleased with the first quarter. Defensively, I thought we defended with great focus and great discipline, but we got loose there before halftime,” claimed Lawson. “UPenn came up 15 points in the last six minutes of the [second] quarter, and, you know, that was frustrating.” 

However, it was the depth of the Blue Devils bench led by freshman Shayeann Day-Wilson that helped regain the first quarter momentum in the later quarters. The ACC Freshman of the Week showed off her WNBA range, sinking 4-of-6 3-pointers on a highly efficient 5-of-8 shooting for a team-high 14 points. Day-Wilson could be seen stretching out the Quaker defense as she traversed through elaborate screens to an open catch-and-shoot or creating her own space with her signature step-back three. She further disrupted the Quaker defense with her vision, threading passes through a sea of white Penn jerseys for three assists and countless set play transitions. To top it off, the Canadian point guard recorded three rebounds and one steal—numbers that undervalue the hustle and tenacity Day-Wilson showed on the defensive end. 

While Day-Wilson was impressive, it wasn’t a one-man production from the bench either. The bench combined for 42 points—more than half of Duke’s 77 total—proving that they have the skillsets available to produce when the starters need a break. Veterans Miela Goodchild and Amaya Finklea-Guity each recorded seven points of their own, with Finklea-Guity doing so on a 100% field goal percentage. Center-forward Onome Akinboude-James and Goodchild grabbed one offensive rebound each totaling three and four rebounds respectively. The bench’s fluid ball movement was reflected by the combined seven assists with Day-Wilson and Goodchild sharing three assists each which are the highest from the team after starter de Jesus’s five. But, the bench’s high output shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

“You got to back up the wins that you have. So [theoretically] if you win a game on Thursday and then you lose a game here and there, it kind of cancels out,” said Lawson. “To be a good team, which is what we want to be, you have to back up your wins with another one and another one. We did that today.” 

As such, the Blue Devils were able to continue their undefeated start to the season with the bench stealing the show against the Quakers Sunday.

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