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'Doesn't have to be pretty': For Duke women's basketball, comfortable win against Miami is an encouraging sign

Celeste Taylor defends Miami guard Haley Cavinder in Duke's win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Celeste Taylor defends Miami guard Haley Cavinder in Duke's win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

When head coach Kara Lawson took a seat in front of the microphone Sunday afternoon, she wasn’t thrilled. With the exception of a single free throw from sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, Lawson’s team had just ended a game against an important ACC rival with a seven-minute scoring drought. The ninth-ranked Blue Devils struggled to find the basket in the last quarter against Miami, whereas the Hurricanes were picking up speed. The visiting team closed what had once been a 19-point deficit to a 10-point gap with aggressive defense and sharpshooting from deep.

Still, Duke won the game 50-40.

“At this stage … the win is what you need. It's what you're looking for at this time of year, doesn't have to be pretty. You're just trying to stack as many as you can,” said Lawson. “So I'm proud of our group for taking the challenge—it's a really good team—and coming away with the win.”

Decked in pink uniforms to honor breast cancer awareness, Duke shut down Miami right at the start. The Blue Devils wrapped up the first half leading 32-13, and the game was essentially signed and sealed by the time the two teams headed to their respective locker rooms for halftime. The final minutes of the matchup did not reflect Duke’s finest work, but it didn’t matter—at this point, it clearly takes a lot more than a 10-minute run for any opponent to cause real damage against these Blue Devils.

The game worked like a story, with an exposition in the form of a Reigan Richardson 3-pointer set off a rising action dominated by Duke. Day-Wilson controlled the ball, orchestrating an offense that looked increasingly like a well-oiled machine, with the Blue Devils sharing the wealth all around. The usual suspects scored for Duke in the first quarter—and the usual suspects are becoming a pretty large crowd. Senior guard Celeste Taylor continues to shine, but she has not often been a solo headliner of late with more Blue Devils adding consistent scoring.

“I look at it as a plus … our depth allows us to be more free with substitutions, and not have the level of play drop too much,” said Lawson. “And that's a luxury that I have as a coach to have 10 players in a rotation that can all impact the game.”

Duke continued to spin its narrative as it amped up the intensity in the second quarter, putting up another 17 points within the 10-minute stretch. Then, the story’s rising action peaked, and Duke delivered the story’s climax as Day-Wilson drained a three to close out the half. 

But at the top of a mountain, the only way to go is down. Following that three, all momentum went to Miami as the Hurricanes brought energy in the second half. Duke was outscored 27-18 after halftime in a tale of turned tables.

These turned tables came as a result, more than anything, of a powerful Miami team. In the second half Sunday, the Hurricanes shot 39.1% from the field and held the hosts to 29.1% shooting. They hit four 3-pointers, drew six fouls and forced six of Duke’s eight total turnovers. Despite being unranked in the AP Poll, the Hurricanes—led by Duke alumna Katie Meier—sat in a tie for third in the ACC entering Sunday.

“I thought they were really aggressive. I thought we missed some shots, too,” said Lawson. 

“I thought offensively, we weren't as aggressive as we needed to be hunting shots, and then we didn't finish as well,” Lawson added.

For about 10 minutes, the Blue Devils played poorly. Even a full quarter of sloppy ball control and missed open shots, however, was not enough to counteract the powerful first-half showing from Lawson’s deeply talented roster. 

Sunday’s game puts some perspective on the road ahead for the Blue Devils as they finish off conference play and head into the postseason. Just three days prior to its win against Miami, Duke held Boston College to the second-lowest scoring total ever in the ACC. This streak of success comes as Duke’s roster develops into a deep group of consistent competitors with each other to rely on—not only to share the weight of scoring, but in every aspect of the game.

“That’s the beauty of our team: it can be anybody on a given night,” said Lawson.

Duke’s 22nd win of the season comes just two days after the team was projected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. The prediction adds up, given a season in which the Blue Devils have pulled out a win every time save for three competitive matchups outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium. This has become a theme for Duke: no surprises.

“Everything in our program starts with our players,” said Lawson. “We don't have to convince them to play hard. We don't have to convince them to play together. They came to us that way.”

If Sunday’s showing was a bad day for Duke, the Blue Devils have little to worry about. When a team is comfortable enough against an ACC opponent to lose the second half by nine points and still pull out a double-digit win, that team is sitting pretty. And at this rate—with this consistency—the Blue Devils will be sitting pretty all the way into the postseason.

Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity first-year and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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