In basketball, fouls can be crippling. In Monday’s game against North Carolina A&T, Duke struggled with them. The team recorded a single-game program-record 29 infractions against the Aggies, and while the win was solid, the foul count was troubling.
Thursday, Duke redeemed itself. The Blue Devils dominated Charleston Southern in an impressive 111-50 victory and in the process showed their ability to play a lockdown defensive game while simultaneously staying disciplined.
“You have to be disciplined defensively and you have to be disruptive,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “I thought we were both tonight.”
The Blue Devils played the whole game with an aggressive full-court press, and it was highly effective from the get-go. The Blue Devils managed to take the ball away several times early in the game, intercepting inbound passes and blocking lanes as the Buccaneers tried to move the ball up past halfcourt. The aggressive defense out of the gate gave the Blue Devils a solid cushion before Charleston Southern even began thinking about how to break the press. In all, Duke forced 29 turnovers and scored 43 points from its takeaways. In fact, the Blue Devils never trailed at any point during the game.
But unlike in Monday night’s game against the Aggies, the Blue Devils kept their foul count low. They committed just nine personal fouls during the course of the game, and as a result kept the Buccaneers away from easy points at the free throw line.
“We watched quite a bit of film on it,” said Lawson. “We held them accountable in practice and credit [to] them in the game, they were able to make that adjustment.”
The benefits of staying disciplined as a team extend beyond just the ability to rack up a 61-point margin of victory against a Charleston Southern team that offered very little resistance against a rolling Duke offense. Because her players stayed out of foul trouble, Lawson got to see how different lineups played together in real-game situations.
Fourteen players saw the floor Thursday night, and all of them played for at least four minutes. This is a team that will only get stronger as Lawson develops her core starters and the rotation around them.
“Last game was hard because I had to sub based off of fouls [instead of] a rotation,” said Lawson. “Tonight I was able to kind of get some looks at different lineups.”
Thursday, the Blue Devils demonstrated their full potential as a team. They moved the ball well, putting up 26 assists. Every pass was made decisively, every shot put up with confidence. This was a team that knew what it had to do to win and went above and beyond those requirements. Duke executed its game plan almost perfectly against a Buccaneers team that struggled to get its feet under it. If the Blue Devils can keep this sort of defensive pressure going through the tougher stretches that will come during the middle and end of the season, they will be a tough team for any squad around the country to beat.
However, that is a pretty big if. Full-court presses can be physically taxing on players, and it will likely be difficult for Lawson to maintain that sort of aggressive defensive strategy for the whole season without risking injury and fatigue for the team. That being said, Lawson proved Thursday that she is unafraid to go deep into her bench to give her strongest players plenty of rest and keep the core of her lineup fresh late into the season.
It is worth keeping in mind that Charleston Southern is a squad that has generally struggled in recent years. But if the Blue Devils can play with this same level of disciplined confidence and consistency down the stretch, they could be a real threat to some top teams when those important games against stronger squads roll around.
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