The Devil's in the details: Duke women's basketball season defined by elite defense, inconsistent offense

<p>Celeste Taylor defends a 3-point attempt against Georgia Tech.&nbsp;</p>

Celeste Taylor defends a 3-point attempt against Georgia Tech. 

After a difficult end to Duke’s season in a second-round NCAA tournament defeat against No. 6-seed Colorado, the Blue Zone looks back at some of the numbers that defined the Blue Devils’ 2022-23 campaign:


If there was one word to describe Duke’s season, it would be defense. The Blue Devils were one of the top defensive teams in the country all year long, and allowed an average of just 51 points per game — good for second in the country. That effort was spearheaded by senior guard Celeste Taylor, a finalist for the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year. Taylor had 72 steals on the year, averaging 2.2 per game. Additionally, per HerHoopStats, she ranked sixth in the nation in defensive win shares, a stat which approximates how many additional wins a player’s defensive performance brought to her team. The rest of the team was strongly defensive minded as well. Junior center Kennedy Brown ranks in the 97th percentile of all players in blocks per game. Many of Duke’s wins this year were low-scoring and defensively dominant affairs, in which the Blue Devils controlled the flow of the game and often limited opponents to well below their average scoring mark. 


Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, basketball is not just about defense. To win a game, a team also needs to put the ball in the hoop. Duke struggled on the offensive end of the floor for much of the season, and that was ultimately the Blue Devils’ downfall. The team averaged 63.6 points per game, just the 47th percentile nationwide. As a result of Duke’s struggles to score consistently, it was heavily reliant on its defense. Against teams like Virginia Tech with elite 3-point shooters and one of the best centers in college basketball, the Blue Devils floundered. That inability to score at a high clip prevented Duke from making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. In the Blue Devils’ final game of the season against Colorado, which included a five-minute overtime period, Duke scored just 53 points.


The Blue Devils climbed eight spots in the ACC standings from last year to this year. Duke went from a disappointing 10th-place finish in the 2021-22 season to the second-place spot this season. While a second-round exit in the NCAA tournament was disappointing for fans, the Blue Devils are undoubtedly trending upward. Head coach Kara Lawson has had time to get a feel for the program and has revitalized a squad that went through a rough few years at the beginning of her tenure. Now, as Lawson returns for her fourth year with excellent incoming talent, there is no reason why this squad cannot walk away with a first-place finish next season. 


Zero is Taylor’s number. In an widely unexpected move, the 5-foot-11 guard recently elected to return to the program for her final year of college eligibility. Taylor was the centerpiece of this team last year, acting as a defensive anchor and a dangerous offensive weapon. She had an outstanding 2022-23 season, and her return to the Blue Devils will be crucial for a Duke team that looked like it would be short on guards. With Jordyn Oliver and Shayeann Day-Wilson’s decisions to transfer out of the program, Lawson can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that her “Agent Zero” will be running it back for one last season with the Blue Devils. 


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