Column: As season ends in defeat, Duke women’s basketball’s winning chase speaks for itself

Senior guard Celeste Taylor pressures Colorado's Jaylyn Sherrod in Duke's season-ending loss Monday.
Senior guard Celeste Taylor pressures Colorado's Jaylyn Sherrod in Duke's season-ending loss Monday.

After Christian Laettner hit “The Shot” in 1992, CBS play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist was quiet. He wanted to let us experience that moment, let us live in it ourselves, my sports journalism professor explained.

I, too, was quiet as the final buzzer sounded Monday evening. Duke women’s basketball had just lost to Colorado 61-53 in the Round of 32 — in overtime, to dig the knife deeper. Elizabeth Balogun kissed the Duke logo at halfcourt; Celeste Taylor shed tears. I thought of Lundquist and his silence, and how the two moments were so different. 

In my time as a beat reporter for this team, I always wondered what new conversations I could bring to the table — what could I ask of this team that we had not before? How could I best use my voice to craft compelling, thoughtful stories for this team?

But Monday, dreams came true — dreams had been coming true all season, I realized in writing this — and like The Shot, like the sports moments that define a generation, nothing needs to be said.

“It was a dream to come play here,” Taylor said Monday night. “I came here to bring us to the tournament and just try to help us out a little bit. And [head coach Kara Lawson] has so much belief in me; and I think that my respect for her was so high that it was a no-brainer coming here to help her out in that aspect of just building that foundation.”

Before this year, Duke had not been to the NCAA tournament since 2018. It had in fact voluntarily ended its last two seasons. The Blue Devils, Taylor pointed out, were not picked to finish in the top five of the ACC’s preseason poll — but their last regular-season game ended up deciding whether or not they sat atop the conference.

If Taylor’s mission at Duke was to lay a foundation for a successful, name-recognized program, then she by and large succeeded, regardless of Monday night’s outcome. Duke, as Lawson said after the game, is “a team that’s going to compete and can compete against anybody in the country.” And it was a team who competed not for glory, but for self.

“I’m not worried about getting wins to get our due,” Lawson said in January when asked about Duke flying under the radar in the polls. “I’m worried about getting wins to pursue being one of the best teams in this league.”

Everything that was not winning was just noise. 

Being ranked in the top 10? “I’ve never seen that little number beside your name score points,” Lawson said. 

Awards and honors? “ We’re not chasing a poll or an accolade, or an individual or a team … we’re not chasing that. We’re chasing winning.” 

Duke won for the sake of a winning tradition — so that, as Taylor said to teammate Reigan Richardson next to her at the press table, “you and [Shayeann Day-Wilson] can lead the next group of girls, just like we tried to do this year.” 

Taylor’s near quadruple-double in the loss to Colorado — 10 rebounds, 10 steals, eight points and eight assists — showed what she was willing to give for this winning tradition. It was sheer desperation, knowing that this could be her last game, her last chance to make the tournament run she wanted Duke so badly to have.

“I hope everyone finds something to pursue in their life that matters this much to you,” Lawson tweeted in response to a clip of Taylor’s press conference. “I also hope everyone finds someone like [Taylor] to pursue it with.”

“You can’t even put it into words,” Taylor said of Duke’s turnaround from last year to this year, and she’s right. Duke’s is a story that speaks for itself. There was a team that wanted to win, not for those who doubted it, not even those who believed in it — for itself. And it did. And everyone who was part of that deserves to live in that moment the same way Lundquist let us back in 1992. There’s nothing I want to say, nothing I could.

Earlier in the season, I quoted a thought from Austin Meek of The Athletic: “Life isn’t a Disney movie. Or sometimes it is, and you realize too late that the movie isn’t about you.” I hope that Duke enjoyed its movie this season. It’s not my decision to make for them.

How wonderful to think I got to witness even a modicum of this journey; how humbling to know that I cannot even begin to capture it.

Leah Boyd profile
Leah Boyd

Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.


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