Duke kicked off the new year with a win against then-No. 17 Notre Dame, marking the squad's first ACC win of the season and head coach Kara Lawson’s first in her time at Duke.
The game was a hard-fought battle, with the Fighting Irish leading for 22 minutes and the Blue Devils for 10. So how did Duke pull out a win in the end? A few things stand out about its performance, including Goodchild’s consistency on the shot and Balogun’s late game control. The most prominent, however, was the team’s guard-dominated gameplay and 3-point accuracy.
The Blue Devils went into the game appearing to have a desire to leverage their ability to pass and use their speed and accuracy on the mid to long range shot against Notre Dame’s defense. They executed this by setting up in a 4-out-1-in, with guards Miela Goodchild and Celeste Taylor and wings Elizabeth Balogun and Lexi Gordon firing the ball around the arc in an attempt to get a look at the rim. Center Onome Akinbode-James repeatedly picked and rolled to create opportunities off the dribble and in the paint.
This spaced-out, pass-heavy offense allowed the Blue Devils to get off far more 3-point shots than their competition. Duke had 20 3-point attempts throughout the game compared to Notre Dame’s eight, knocking down 10 of them. Gordon and Balogun got off six and five 3-pointers, respectively, and Goodchild, who started in place of Shayeann Day-Wilson, went 3-for-3 from the arc.
This hasn’t been the case the past few games, however.
“Yea I don’t know if I should talk about it, I might jinx it. It's been awful the last few weeks we haven’t been able to make a shot,” said Lawson when asked to speak about the team's remarkable 3-point shooting.
The key to their accuracy was patience, Lawson said.
“I thought we waited for the play to develop and then took those threes in rhythm.”
While this form of play beat Notre Dame from beyond the arc, it left Duke vulnerable in other ways.
When a team takes a large number of threes, one wonders whether the players are confident in these shots or are simply struggling to overcome defense and power closer to the rim. The Blue Devils seemed to have trouble surpassing Notre Dame’s line of defense to work the ball into the paint for more dependable shots. The Fighting Irish, led by forward Maya Dodson, tallied an impressive 54 points in the paint while Duke, stopped by Dodson and freshman Olivia Miles, was only able to drain 24. Duke centers Jade Williams and Akinbode-James will likely need to get more looks off the pick and roll on days when their sharpshooters are out of luck.
When making the decision to play a guard-dominated game as Duke did, there is often a tradeoff as seen with Notre Dame out-rebounding Duke on the offensive and defensive boards. The Fighting Irish also had eight second-chance points against Duke’s four, numbers that, while seemingly small, are game-changers in terms of wearing out a team defensively and gaining momentum.
While their offensive excellence was sufficient to negate the shortage in rebounds, it will be important in the future to be able to adjust to competitors which run a similar guard-dominated game or play similar to Notre Dame with its talented post.
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