Duke women’s basketball outlasts Oregon State in offensively stagnant Phil Knight Legacy finale

Celeste Taylor led Duke to a win against Oregon State in Sunday night's Phil Knight Legacy finale.
Celeste Taylor led Duke to a win against Oregon State in Sunday night's Phil Knight Legacy finale.

PORTLAND, Ore.—The PK85 tournaments have seen some excellent exhibitions of basketball, from the women’s thriller between UConn and Iowa to the Iowa State men’s big upset of North Carolina. But Sunday’s finales were filled with bizarre affairs—and on a day when one game went to quadruple overtime, Duke and Oregon State may have topped them all.

The Blue Devils beat Oregon State 54-41 in the final women’s game of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, a game marred by 40 minutes of offensive ineffectiveness from both sides. Duke moved the ball well and hunted good shots, but couldn’t get open looks. The Beavers, on the other hand, alternated between losing the ball and missing open shots. The teams combined to shoot just 31.1% from the field and 14.7% from three, with the Blue Devils committing 21 fouls and Oregon State turning it over 20 times. Duke had not played a game that approached that combination of poor shooting, fouling and turnovers in at least 12 years, per Her Hoop Stats.

“I was just yelling at ‘em, to ‘Run! Run! Run!’ said Blue Devil head coach Kara Lawson. “[Oregon State] did a good job of slowing the pace down of the game, and we were trying to make it faster. So every time we got the ball, we were just imploring the group that was on the floor to sprint to try and get the pace going a little bit higher, because we felt like that’s a game that’s in our favor, especially with [the Beavers’] size. So I don’t know that that’s anything great coaching; I was just yelling at them to keep running.”

Duke (6-1) finally put the game away in the early-to-mid fourth quarter, once point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson checked back in. She quickly started generating offense, helping create a pair of open threes for combo guard Celeste Taylor, and Taylor sank the second one to start a personal 6-0 run to give the Blue Devils a 12-point lead. Just to emphasize the scoring struggles both teams faced, She accounted for another three points when she collected a missed layup from Beaver point guard Talia von Oelhoffen and passed to a wide-open Elizabeth Balogun three.

The Blue Devils kicked off their scoring the same way they got most of their points against UConn: with a long jumper. Only this time they came from center Kennedy Brown, just her third made jumper of the season, per Synergy Sports. After emphatically blocking a pair of shots on the Beavers’ second halfcourt possession, it was clear Brown was amped to play against her former team.

“She’s playing her old team, her old coaches — you’d have to not have a pulse to not feel something,” said Lawson. “Once the game starts, [those feelings] dissipate, because you’re focused on what you’re doing. … And now when the game starts, Kennedy wants to win. And if you put yourself in her position, if you’re playing against former friends and buddies and things like that, you like them, but you want to be on the team that comes out on top.”

The Beavers (4-2) took more than four minutes to score their first points, a von Oelhoffen three. But the Blue Devils made little use of their stifling defense, scoring just four to that point. They only reached 10 points at the 3:40 mark, as it became clear they would repeat their offensive woes against the Huskies.

Duke finally seemed to find a lasting offensive stride in the late first quarter, scoring 10 points across the last 4.5 minutes of the period. Still, it left a lot of points on the table in the opening minutes: point guard Jordyn Oliver accidentally grazed a ball going out of bounds to give Oregon State an extra offensive possession, Balogun missed a point-blank layup after a Taylor steal in the backcourt and the team just took a lot of time to get through its halfcourt sets.

That stride didn’t last. After wing Ashlon Jackson knocked down a late-clock three to put the Blue Devils up 19-11, it took another seven minutes to reach 25 points. And it was not for a lack of trying—Duke just could not consistently get to the rim or execute its sets. A number of times, Day-Wilson or backup point guard Vanessa de Jesus called for the Blue Devils to run a halfcourt set and some of their teammates appeared unsure of what to do.

With Oregon State’s centers usually stuck to the defensive paint and Duke’s centers often lifted to the elbows, there were two ways for the Blue Devils to exploit that dichotomy: having their centers knock down jumpers, or using their centers in dribble-handoffs and off-ball screens to create numbers advantages. They tried the former a little, with Brown and big Shay Bollin combining to shoot 2-of-4 on jump shots. But with the lack of volume there, it wasn’t enough to force the Beavers to adjust the defensive positioning. Duke was left with tough layups and midrange pull-ups most of the rest of the time.

Any plan Lawson had to ignite the team’s offense after the half went sideways immediately. Day-Wilson picked up her third foul less than a minute into the third quarter on what appeared to be incidental contact with von Oelhoffen, and Lawson benched her for the rest of the period. It was clear the Blue Devils were discombobulated as they committed a double dribble and two travels on back-to-back-to-back possessions in the mid-third. That was underscored by Jackson costing herself a second 3-pointer by spotting up with one foot out of bounds.

“It was an ugly game, but I told the group right after, on the court, I’m proud of the bounce-back,” said Lawson. “One of the things that you don't know about your team until you experience a loss is. ‘Are they able to kind of put that behind them, flush it, take some lessons from it, and then come back and get a win?’' We had to work for this one.”

The Blue Devils return to Durham Thursday for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge against Northwestern.


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