'Shots weren't falling': Duke women's basketball's offense falters as season ends in overtime against Colorado

Sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson rounds the corner in Duke's overtime loss to Colorado.
Sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson rounds the corner in Duke's overtime loss to Colorado.

As the saying goes, offense wins games, but defense wins championships. However, when it comes down to the wire, one touchdown, one goal or one basket is the difference between win or go home.

It is no secret that the Blue Devils’ calling card all season long has been their stellar defense. Currently ranked third in the country in overall scoring defense, Duke’s signature full-court press and tenacious defensive play led it to 24 regular-season wins, its most since the 2016-17 season. The Blue Devils’ sheer grit and determination on that end of the floor earned them big wins over the likes of N.C. State and Miami. When they are locked in defensively, it is hard to beat them — that is, if the opponent lacks a potent offense to put up a fight.

When Duke has come across efficient offenses that can run the floor against a high-pressure defense, it has struggled to come up with its own offensive response. As a team that only shoots 41.7% from the field with an average of 63.6 points per game, the Blue Devils’ offense, or lack thereof, has been their Achilles’ heel throughout the 2022-23 campaign. Nowhere was this highlighted more than in their February loss to Virginia Tech on the road. Failing to shut down the dynamic duo of Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore, Duke could not respond with the necessary firepower to pull out a victory.

Its offensive deficiency became its ultimate downfall Monday as it lost 61-53 in the second round of the NCAA tournament to No. 6-seed Colorado in overtime. While the third-seeded Blue Devils fought with tenacity and clawed their way back into the contest, their inability to get buckets in key moments spoiled their chances of a victory.

“That’s a tough loss for us. We fought hard, [but] got ourselves into a little bit of a hole there to start the game,” said head coach Kara Lawson.

That hole began with an early 6-0 run by the Buffaloes, whose lethal combination of center Quay Miller and guard Jaylyn Sherrod caused issues for Duke all night long. While the Blue Devils started to warm up, Colorado continued to lay it on them, jumping out to a 21-11 lead after the first quarter alone that the home team never truly recovered from. Their offensive woes started the minute they fell behind.

As they have done throughout this season, Lawson’s squad made resiliency their middle name and fought their way back into the matchup. Their defensive presence nearly ground Colorado to a halt with 29 defensive rebounds, six blocks and 17 steals. Senior guard Celeste Taylor once again proved worthy of her ACC Defensive Player of the Year title, ending the night with a near quadruple-double with eight points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a season-high 10 steals. 

“She’s the definition of laying it out there,” said Lawson. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a [5-foot-10] guard do that.”

Duke looked as though its defensive bread and butter would be enough to stop the stampede. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils had a 43-39 lead, but the Buffaloes were quick to respond with an offensive run of their own. The two squads went back and forth, with the game all tied up at 50-50 with 34 seconds left in regulation. The rock ultimately ended up in the hands of sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, who could not convert on the 3-point jumper. 

Heading into overtime, with five minutes to make or break the season, it seemed as though the Blue Devils had a chance at sweet victory. That would prove to not be the case, as Colorado outscored Duke 11-3 in the extra period to claim the ultimate prize of a trip to the Sweet 16. Simply put, the Blue Devils struggled to get tallies on the board, with their only three points coming from three free throws. With a slew of missed jumpers and 3-point attempts, it seemed as though no shot, no matter how good the opportunity, would fall. When it came down to it, the offensive production just was not there.

“Unfortunately, we just weren’t knocking down shots,” said Richardson. “We got looks that we wanted … [but] some shots weren’t falling for us.”

The plague of offensive woes finally caught up to Duke, ending its season in the same way it had been bested all year long. North Carolina took away the Blue Devils’ ACC regular-season crown, Virginia Tech ended their conference tournament title hopes and Colorado dashed their dreams of a national championship all due to a lack of offensive efficiency and precision when they needed it most.

While the season is over, Lawson’s group still has a lot to be proud of. Not even picked to finish top-five in the ACC, the Blue Devils dispelled any doubters by finishing second in the ACC and earning a No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament. If nothing else, this team has re-entered Duke’s name into the national conversation.

“I think more than anything what this group has done is really changed how we’re looked at,” said Lawson. “We’ve established ourselves as a team that’s going to compete and can compete against anybody in the country.”

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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