Duke women's basketball hands Virginia first loss in successful ACC opener

Vanessa de Jesus paced Duke's offense in Wednesday's home win against Virginia.
Vanessa de Jesus paced Duke's offense in Wednesday's home win against Virginia.

After a 10-day break from gameplay, Duke continued its winning ways. In their first ACC contest Wednesday, the Blue Devils handed Virginia its first loss of the season 70-56. Vanessa de Jesus led all scorers with 15 points. Celeste Taylor scored 13 points with eight rebounds, and Kennedy Brown recorded 12 points with a season-high four assists. 

“This was a new kind of game for this team in terms of being the first conference game and how intense conference games are,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “We haven’t really played in a close game yet … it was good to see us in a closer margin game.”

A common theme throughout the night was Duke’s aggressiveness on the offensive end, as the Blue Devils (11-1, 1-0 in the ACC) were constantly able to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. Duke scored 21 points at the charity stripe, its most since its victory over Texas A&M Nov. 17. A big moment occurred early in the game as Virginia’s top scorer and rebounder, Mir McLean, committed her second foul in the waning seconds of the first quarter. She was forced to sit for the entire second quarter, and was joined by the Cavaliers’ second-leading scorer Camryn Taylor after her second foul. 

Duke capitalized on Virginia’s foul trouble and showcased its depth by dominating the second quarter. This was the period in which Duke was able to build a large lead, contributing to the double-digit victory. The Blue Devils were stifling defensively, only giving up nine points all quarter and one field goal in the last 6:56. A 25-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer by Shayeann Day-Wilson was an exclamation point to the half as Duke extended its lead to 38-26. 

The sophomore from Toronto opened the second half with another 3-pointer, her second of the night, in which she scored 11 points. Nevertheless, the talented Cavaliers (12-1, 1-1) did not go away easily. It was a largely back-and-forth affair in the second half, and a London Clarkson layup with 4:09 in the third quarter cut the Blue Devil lead to single digits. 

After a mini Duke run, the Cavaliers showed their effort and grit as Taylor Valladay connected on a free throw to make the score 57-49. However, every time that Virginia tried to work its way back into the contest, Duke responded. In one of the biggest plays of the game, de Jesus knocked down a corner three with 5:09 left in the contest, representing Duke’s first field goal of the final quarter. This propelled the Blue Devils to victory, as Duke extended its winning streak to six. 

“There was a little bit more game pressure in some of those possessions in the fourth and I thought we responded well when they made a run,” said Lawson. 

Both sides were sloppy out of the gate, as there were nine combined turnovers committed by the first under-5 timeout. In particular, Duke started slow offensively, as the Blue Devils were called for three offensive fouls within the first three minutes of the game. 

Virginia opened the game with a quick 5-0 lead, and Duke quickly responded with a 7-0 run of its own, capped off by a de Jesus 3-pointer with 6:26 remaining in the quarter. She continued to lead the Blue Devils throughout the first quarter, as they ended with a 21-17 lead. They never looked back, leading in every minute the rest of the game.

“Vanessa has been really trending upward in terms of her play and practices,” said Lawson. “She’s been playing really well.”

Duke focused on dominating the paint on both ends of the floor. A goal offensively was getting the ball inside and running the offense through Brown. Much of this consisted of either using Brown as a passer on the high post with the guards cutting, or posting the 6-foot-6 center up. 

On three straight possessions in the second quarter, the Blue Devils fed the ball to Brown. After the double team came to the post, Brown kicked the ball out to Taylor, who knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:46 remaining in the second quarter. Brown followed with four straight points, demonstrating her ability to spread the floor and take advantage of her size. 

“Kennedy gives us an anchor down low ... defensively, she is like a quarterback out there,” said Lawson. “Offensively, we play through her a lot. She’s able to get us points in the paint and she can make outside shots, too.”

After a five-win season last year, new head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton has done an incredible job turning around Virginia’s team. Part of this is their ability to score at a high level, as the Cavaliers are scoring 78.4 points per game. However, the elite Blue Devil defense held Virginia under 60 points for the first time this season. Coming into the game, Duke was second in the nation allowing 48.5 points per game. 

Next up for the Blue Devils is a short trip to Raleigh, as they will face an elite N.C State team Dec. 29. 

Ranjan Jindal profile
Ranjan Jindal | Sports Editor

Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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