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Duke women's basketball turns defense to offense in exhibition win against Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Duke thrived in transition during Saturday's exhibition win.
Duke thrived in transition during Saturday's exhibition win.

When you change schools or move to a new environment, it takes some time to settle in. There is an adjustment period, as you try to find your group of friends and get acclimated to the new climate. 

Duke had an influx of transfers and new recruits, so a similar transition period was expected. However, it only lasted for one half in Saturday’s 90-36 win over Indiana University of Pennsylvania. 

No, it was not a perfect performance by the Blue Devils. There were moments in the first half when it felt like Duke could not buy a basket in its half-court offense. There were missed shots, frequent fouling and turnovers. The first half was an opportunity for the Blue Devils to work out the kinks with the largely new group. But the defense remained stout, which helped the struggling offense with steals and fast-break opportunities. Head coach Kara Lawson’s bunch demonstrated two keys to their identity—defensive effort and fast offensive pace. 

Duke forced 20 turnovers in the first half alone, many of those coming from a full-court press installed by Lawson throughout the game. Deflections and steals were aplenty, and Duke made life miserable for the Crimson Hawk backcourt. 

The second half was largely a different story. The defense went from great to elite, and the offense came alive. The Blue Devils outscored IUP 48-11, exemplifying the domination of the half. Gone were the excessive fouling and turnovers, replaced by a well-oiled offensive machine featuring ball movement and effective transition offense. 

The newcomers that Duke added made a significant impact Saturday, none bigger, figuratively and literally, than 6-foot-6 center Kennedy Brown. The Oregon State transfer dominated the paint throughout the contest. She showcased her impact from the jump, scoring eight points in the first quarter.

“We feel like we can have a presence in the paint,” said Lawson. “She obviously has great size and she can finish with either hand. She’s an incredible weapon for us.”

Lawson’s goal was to add size and athleticism through the transfer portal, exemplified by Brown. This was Lawson’s first full recruiting class, and she showcased her ability to bring in elite talent on the recruiting trail along with from the transfer portal. 

One of these newcomers, Georgia transfer Reigan Richardson, provided a spark off of the bench, scoring nine points in 15 minutes of action. Jordyn Oliver, who redshirted last year due to injury, was the starting point guard for the team and scored 12 points. The 2020 Baylor transfer had an all-around game, dishing out five assists and recording three steals. 

“I think that the newcomers have come in hungry, hungry to impact, hungry to learn and hungry to blend in with everybody else,” said Lawson.

The influx of talent has created a balanced offensive attack, illuminated Saturday. In the first quarter alone, 11 different players saw the court, and 12 players got on the board during the game. Senior guard Celeste Taylor led all scorers with 16, and newcomers Oliver and Brown followed with 12 points apiece. 

“When you're blending old and new, you have to have the right people that want to help each other and I think our players that are returning have done a great job of helping teach the system,” said Lawson. “[The veterans] also see and feel how much better [the newcomers] can make our team and that makes everyone really excited about the season.”

The first look at Lawson’s Blue Devils provided important insights into their philosophy moving forward. It is clear that Lawson is preaching a defensive identity. Even though this was an exhibition, Duke forced an absurd 36 turnovers and scored 45 points off of these turnovers. For reference, IUP scored 36 total points.

“One of our main goals this year is to be more disruptive defensively. I was very pleased with the second half defense,” said Lawson.

Offensively, the team used its elite athleticism and speed to increase their pace of play. Due to their versatility, the Blue Devils were able to push the ball down the court and score on fast-break opportunities.

“It doesn't have to be the point guard that makes a play out there … it can be a pass ahead. Our wings are really good at getting into the lane and finishing and passing. So we want to utilize the strengths of all of our players,” said Lawson. 

The team hustled on both ends, so much so that Taylor and Vanessa de Jesus both found their way onto the press table during the game. This scrappy brand of basketball will be exciting to watch for the Blue Devil faithful. It is safe to say that the newcomers have found their role on the team; the next step for them will be to flourish in this role during the regular season, beginning Monday against North Carolina A&T.

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