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Duke women's basketball hangs on against Virginia in nerve-racking finish

The Blue Devils shot 48% from the field in their winning effort against Virginia.
The Blue Devils shot 48% from the field in their winning effort against Virginia.

Historically, cavaliers are known to be resilient soldiers in a battle. But in 40 minutes of basketball in Durham Sunday, the Blue Devils rewrote history.

Marching into Cameron Indoor Stadium, Virginia was on a six-game loss streak. With a 3-12 record on the year ahead of the 6 p.m. matchup, the Cavaliers were already facing an uphill battle against the nation’s No. 21 team. The Blue Devils further demonstrated that through success on the court, overtaking Virginia 57-48. 

“It’s a solid win for us, got contributions from a lot of different people, which is nice to see. And, we'll take it, we won't give any wins back, we'll take it,” head coach Kara Lawson said at the postgame media conference. “And, you know, [we’ll] take tomorrow off and get ready for the next one.”

Eight players on the Duke squad contributed to the score, with Shayeann Day-Wilson leading through 13 points, three steals and three assists. Onome Akinbode-James also put on a strong showing, registering seven points and a season-high five blocks.

For the seventh consecutive game, Duke (13-4, 4-3 in the ACC) was missing players—Miela Goodchild due to health and safety protocols and Celeste Taylor because of the upper body injury she faced against Syracuse. However, missing several key players seemed to be no issue for the group, as they played a tight man-to-man defense to keep their opponents’ numbers low at the beginning while hitting high accuracy marks on the hardwood.

“I wasn’t pleased with our energy in the fourth quarter, our sense of energy as a whole, I thought, was poor. That's why I was making some subs and trying to find a group that would defend with energy,” Lawson said. “....When it was that time, the winning time, that group that we put out on there did a great job of getting stops. And that was helpful for us to be able to put them in a situation where they had to foul us, and then we were able to separate there at the end.”

Heading into the final quarter of play having gone 19-of-37 from the field compared to Virginia’s 12-of-44 mark, it looked like Duke thought that the last 10 minutes of the game would be defined by a closing out effort. However, from the first quarter to the last, Virginia (3-13, 0-6) improved immensely from its bleak first 10 minutes, which included going 2-of-15 from the field, as the Cavaliers roared back in the last minutes.

The Cavaliers started the quarter in a 15-point deficit, but by the 5:42 mark, the group had went on a six-point scoring run to give Duke a run for its money and only a nine-point lead. Virginia inched closer to that lead while the Blue Devils lost out on the quarter, going 9-of-16 to Duke’s own 3-of-9 from the field.

However, Day-Wilson brought Duke some more insurance on the floor as she added a jumper with 46 seconds left in the match. Though Virginia managed to add several more baskets during the final minute, the Blue Devils had the final possession of the game and managed to edge out Virginia through free-throws.

The loudest cheers of the game came with a Jiselle Havas buzzer-beater at the end of the first half. With 2,126 people in attendance, all of the Cameron Crazies rallied in the stands by the trey Havas added to finish off the first 20 minutes of the game, with Duke leading 34-18. 

“I was excited to be able to help my team and bring the energy and knock down shots when I get to take them,” Havas said. “It was just exciting to be on the floor with my team today.”

And that was just one of Havas’ many impressive plays of the contest. Earlier in the half, the senior guard hit an offensive rebound that almost fell out of bounds to Day-Wilson, who then added the group’s last score of the first quarter. Leading the match 14-5 heading into the second 10 minutes of play, some storylines already seemed to define how the rest of the contest would carry out. The two most important—Duke’s determination to win the boards, apparent in the 15 rebounds within the first quarter, and its accuracy above and below the arc. 

Something that did not seem to be a problem for the group was their patience on defense. Virginia had registered three fouls in the first quarter and six in the second, by the time there were 20 minutes left in play, the Blue Devils only etched one.

To supplement their tenacious defense, the Blue Devils executed fast plays on their side of the ball all day long. The group didn’t always require the full 30 seconds to get a shot on the basket because they played in a concerted effort. Its opponents attempted many times to restrict them, but the Blue Devils’ bounce passes through the paint, fake-outs and picks caught the Cavaliers off-guard. 

“They shot 8-for-11 from the field and gave us 20 points off the bench, which we needed, it was critical…. Nyah can score and she did a good job, just being confident and in threes. And then, you know, Jiselle, she just works,” Lawson said of Green and Havas. “She comes in every day and works. And so I have a lot of confidence in both of them. I know when I put them in, they're going to be able to execute, and they're going to be able to play off the other players.”

Duke found success in the key and managed several layups off fast-breaks—attributable to a blend of different players, but led by Balogun, Day-Wilson and Williams. And through their efforts on the board, the group finished the first half with a 14-3 scoring run.

Virginia began the second half looking for a redo on the struggles that plagued it during the first 20 minutes of play. And though the Cavaliers had a lot to catch up on to see the numbers they would’ve liked to, they were the first team to drain baskets in the second half, registering both the first and second scores. 

However, after the first media timeout of the third quarter, Duke came back on the floor into the same mindset it ran with during the first half. An offensive rebound from Jade Williams helped Day-Wilson drop a dime and help Nyah Green to her first 3-pointer of the day. 

“I definitely think the environment helped us, especially never going to run,” Green said. “I felt like the fans really helped us battle out towards the end and pull out the win.”

And after another timeout, the Blue Devils came back on the floor to get Green her second trey and push Duke to an 18-point lead, its biggest of the competition. Successive efforts throughout the rest of the half were robust due to Duke’s quick passing being too fast for the Cavalier defense, and with each basket, the cheers grew louder.

The Blue Devils will next take on Tobacco Road rival North Carolina at home Thursday at 7 p.m.


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