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Three points: Offensive execution, defending the three essential for Duke women’s basketball to open NCAA tournament

Celeste Taylor drives in Duke's ACC tournament victory against North Carolina.
Celeste Taylor drives in Duke's ACC tournament victory against North Carolina.

No. 3-seed Duke will begin its NCAA tournament campaign Saturday against No. 14-seed Iona in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Zone has three keys for the Blue Devils to start the tournament on the right foot:

Where will the offense come from?

Defense has been Duke’s calling card all season long, however, the offense has been inconsistent at best. Head coach Kara Lawson complimented the team’s offensive performance in its 77-62 victory against N.C. State Feb. 23. Since then, scoring has come at a premium. In the Blue Devils’ past three games, they have scored 41, 44 and 37 points, respectively. Two of these games resulted in losses, and this is not sustainable for Duke to perform well in March. 

In the Blue Devils’ most recent loss against Virginia Tech, the scoring output of 37 was the lowest all season. Duke shot 15-for-56 from the field and looked very stagnant offensively. The Blue Devils are a very deep team and have a multitude of possible scorers, however, self-inflicted wounds have plagued them. Duke committed 25 and 19 turnovers in back-to-back games against North Carolina, and averages 15.2 per game on the year. 

The senior duo of guard Celeste Taylor and wing Elizabeth Balogun will be crucial in generating offense, as both have the ability to create their own shots. Sophomore guards Shayeann Day-Wilson and Reigan Richardson are also capable scorers. While not all of these players need large outbursts, the three teams in Duke’s region — Iona, Colorado and Middle Tennessee State — are great defensive teams, so it will be paramount to improve on the offensive end. 

3-point battle

The Blue Devils’ first opponent, Iona, is also a below-average scoring team. According to Her Hoops Stats, the Gaels rank in the 46th percentile nationally in scoring offense, averaging 63.4 points per game. However, one part of the Gaels’ offense that Duke needs to be aware of is 3-point shooting. Iona shoots an incredible 40.1% from behind the arc, second in the country only behind Gonzaga. In addition, it averages 7.7 made threes per game, proving a worthy test for the Blue Devils since their opponents have only made 4.4 threes per game shooting at a 28.4% clip this season. Duke will need to run the Gaels off of the 3-point line and force them to produce from inside the arc because they score fewer points from that range.

On the other end of the floor, Duke has struggled recently to shoot the ball. In its last game, the team shot 1-for-15 from behind the arc, and it has shot 9-for-49 in the last three games combined. If this improves Saturday, it will give the offense more spacing and provide more scoring opportunities in pick-and-roll sets. 

Capitalize in Cameron

If the Blue Devils can defeat Iona, they will play another game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke has not played a home NCAA tournament game since the 2016-2017 season, but this is a strong edge that the Blue Devils need to take advantage of. Cameron Indoor has been kind to Duke this season, as the Blue Devils have only lost one home game, a 45-41 defeat to North Carolina in the regular-season finale. 

“We are confident playing in Cameron and we have loved playing in front of the Duke community all year,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “It’s been awesome…we're going to need that support from the community and from the fans.”

While the NCAA tournament is a time for upsets, it is undeniable that a home court advantage will benefit the Blue Devils. In addition, the tough ACC slate that Duke faced has certainly prepared it for postseason play. 


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