Duke's comeback attempt came up short during its visit to Louisville.
No. 21 Duke, in its second consecutive ACC loss and second straight game without head coach Kara Lawson (health and safety protocols), fell to the No. 5 Cardinals 77-65. Given that Louisville is one of the best teams in the Atlantic Coast and that the Blue Devils were coming off a disappointing defeat to bitter rival North Carolina, it was not a shocking outcome, but a loss for Duke nonetheless.
“They're one of the best teams in the country [and] came out and played extremely well, especially in the first half. I thought we also came out and shot the ball well, we're really proud of our team. I think we'll certainly have a lot of growth from this experience," assistant coach Beth Cunningham said.
After trailing by 18 at the half, the Blue Devils went on to outscore the Cardinals by six in the second half, closing the lead to as small as five points in the fourth quarter.
Guard Shayeann Day-Wilson was the driving force of this comeback. The reigning ACC freshman of the week scored 18 of Duke’s 38 points in the second half.
“Shay was outstanding today. She’s a special kid, special player. [She] had an outstanding effort for us, just love the way that she competes for every day for us, really sparked our team. But we see it every day in practice. So certainly not surprised by the type of game that she came out and had for us. Thought she was outstanding,” Cunningham said.
Despite Duke getting back to within seven with 3:50 to go, though, a three by Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith delivered a huge blow to the Blue Devils’ hopes of finishing off the rally. That would be the last straw, as multiple fouls and turnovers by Duke ensured that the Cardinals’ were well underway to their third straight win.
"I thought we had an outstanding second half spotter zone, got a lot better in the second half. We [were] able to get them to miss some shots, and obviously put the ball in the basket a little bit more on our end of the floor," Cunningham said.
Day-Wilson did not get much help outside of Lexi Gordon, the Blue Devils’ only other double-digit scorer. Gordon was another force in Duke’s quest to cause a severe upset, scoring 11 points on 4-of-6 from the field.
The Blue Devils’ offensive struggles continued at the start of the game. It is very clear that the Blue Devils are missing the presence of star wing Celeste Taylor. Since Taylor’s Jan. 9 shoulder injury, the offense has struggled, with Duke averaging only 58.2 points on 39.6% from the field and 26.7% from three. The Blue Devils have also allowed 64.8 points per game in that stretch, an increase from 59.4 points allowed with Taylor.
That differs significantly from the first 13 games with Taylor, during which Duke averaged 74.7 points on 44.6% from the field and 33.3% from downtown. It found itself without a point in the paint for the first 16:04 of the encounter. The Cardinals’ sturdy defense limited Duke to primarily shooting from beyond the arc, where it shot an impressive 53.3%.
Duke’s struggles in the paint also translated to the defensive end. The Blue Devils allowed seven offensive rebounds in the first half while only grabbing two offensive boards of their own. The Blue Devils’ initial zone made them susceptible to conceding more three-point attempts, and Louisville, a team that moves well on and off the ball, was able to create gaps in the zone and find open shooters.
Although the Cardinals only shot 34.4% from outside they had a whooping 32 triples attempted for the game, the largest amount of three-point attempts conceded by Duke this season. Van Lith hit five threes of her own, as she led Louisville with 17 points along with four rebounds, three assists and just one turnover.
After an 0-2 week, it is unlikely that Duke will still be ranked. One thing is for certain—the Blue Devils have another key matchup when they host No. 14 Georgia Tech Tuesday.
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