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Duke women's basketball struggles to find its rhythm in blowout loss at North Carolina

Duke struggled from the perimeter in its Sunday loss to North Carolina.
Duke struggled from the perimeter in its Sunday loss to North Carolina.

CHAPEL HILL—After the Blue Devils won the opening tip and got on the board first with a 3-pointer from Celeste Taylor, it seemed like they could get revenge from their last meeting and strengthen their case for the NCAA tournament with a win against No. 18 North Carolina. However, that would be the last time Duke led.

Although head coach Kara Lawson was back on the sideline after missing the previous matchup against the Tar Heels due to COVID-19, the Blue Devils’ regular season ended with a 74-46 loss in Chapel Hill. Duke was unable to build momentum, missing many open shots and struggling to lock down North Carolina's versatile transition game and paint attack. After the Tar Heels scored 14 unanswered points in the first quarter, they continued to build their lead for the rest of the game. 

“I think on defense. It was not following the game plan, not being sharp," said Lawson when discussing her team's execution. "With our game plan defensively. Offensively, I thought it was more of the lack of execution for what we were trying to do."

North Carolina used a 2-3 zone for parts of the game, which was effective in keeping the Blue Devils out of the paint. However, Duke was unable to capitalize on its opportunities on the perimeter, shooting just 18.2% from 3-point range and 30.9% overall.

“Offensively, I thought we got some solid looks," said Lawson. "Obviously, we didn't shoot a great percentage.”

Duke struggled to respond effectively to North Carolina's zone coverage, missing open shots and committing 16 turnovers throughout the game. The Tar Heels' zone defense was successful in blocking passing lanes and stopping drives to the paint, which in turn challenged Duke's defense as North Carolina was able to create opportunities for itself on the fast break.

“Their team does a great job, like being in help, so it's hard to get to the paint," said Lawson. "There's just a lot of people there.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils were challenged from the beginning and also used a 2-3 zone for stretches of the game. While they were able to force difficult shots, North Carolina's offensive rebounding undermined those efforts as the Tar Heels' 20 offensive rebounds—including 14 in the first half—allowed them to score on second chances to extend their lead. Inconsistency on the defensive glass was a problem that hurt the Blue Devils' efforts to end Tar Heel possessions and start their own.

“I think I think we got in our heads defensively," said Taylor about a prolonged Duke scoring drought. "When we were on the defensive and we weren't focused. We weren't locked in. We weren't together. So I think you've kind of messed up stuff on the offensive and but at the end of the day, you know, we've got two sides of the ball. So we've got to play hard on both sides. And we failed to do that today.”

The Blue Devils struggled to gain momentum on either side of the ball after struggling on defense—a recurring problem this season—and missing opportunities on offense. The Blue Devils showed in their early wins against ranked teams that they have the potential to compete at the highest level, but need to return to executing their game plan. On offense, that means converting open shots to points and on defense, it entails staying focused throughout possessions, both of which should help the Blue Devils get back on track in the ACC tournament after losing eight of their last 11 games.

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