Maples Pavilion set the stage for Duke's first road test against a quality opponent, but the welcome was far from warm.
In a thrilling matchup characterized by frequent changes in momentum, Stanford pulled through in overtime to defeat the Blue Devils 82-79.
“Just really proud of my group. You know, just to hang in there and go toe-to-toe,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said about her team’s efforts. “[Stanford is a] really good team. I think they're one of the best teams in the country.”
The fourth-quarter showdown unfolded with intense back-and-forth action, keeping both Duke and Stanford fans on the edge of their seats. The Blue Devils (3-2) started the quarter with a slim 55-53 lead, but the Cardinal (4-0) quickly countered, leveling the score and setting the stage for a game defined by momentum swings.
A pivotal 7-0 run by Stanford shifted the momentum decisively in its favor, putting pressure on Duke. However, Duke responded with a remarkable performance from sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson, who unleashed a barrage of three-pointers (five in the second half). Jackson's clutch shooting brought the Blue Devils back into contention, tying the game and eventually giving them a narrow lead. An exchange of threes between the two teams intensified the drama, creating an electric atmosphere down the stretch.
The final minutes were a true testament to the unpredictable nature of the game, as both teams fought tooth and nail for the coveted victory. Stanford had the opportunity to score the game winning bucket with 1.8 seconds left, but graduate student Camilla Emsbo kept Duke in the game with a massive block to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Duke and Stanford were trading buckets for the entire five minutes. Stanford surged ahead in the final minute by scoring three free throws to end the game, despite the Blue Devils’ valiant fightback.
“We've got to learn how to compete in these environments. And now we've got to learn how to win in these environments. And that's a big difference,” Lawson said. “It's easier to get from not competing to competing in an environment than it is to get from competing in an environment and winning.”
Stanford asserted its dominance over the Blue Devils from tipoff. The Cardinals wasted no time, winning the ball and surging to a quick 7-0 lead, setting the tone for a challenging night for the visitors.
The matchup unfolded with Stanford's strategic brilliance, size advantage and defensive resilience leaving an indelible mark on the game.
This was a game of momentum, and the first quarter was all Stanford. The first quarter saw Duke commit three turnovers, allowing Stanford to capitalize on intentional drives to the rim and exploit its evident size advantage. Despite the Blue Devils’ defensive reputation, the Cardinal’s strategy disrupted their rhythm, establishing a considerable lead. After a dagger three from Stanford’s Hannah Jump that riled up the Cardinal crowd in the fourth minute, Lawson called a timeout to stop the bleeding and hopefully halt the momentum. But Duke’s defense had no response for Kiki Iriafen's outstanding performance, as she scored an impressive 12 points in the opening quarter.
Emsbo's three offensive rebounds showcased Duke's determination to stay competitive early on, but Stanford's intentional inside play and own offensive rebounding left Duke trailing 30-17 at the end of the first quarter. The shooting percentages reflected Stanford's efficiency, boasting a 64.7% accuracy compared to Duke's 38.9%.
“We knew it was gonna be a hard fight. This is a great team. This is a top team in the country,” Jackson said. "We knew that in order to make a name for ourselves or in order to show people who we actually are, we had to fight. We had to compete.”
As the second quarter commenced, Duke displayed a defensive spark, highlighted by a massive block from freshman Jadyn Donovan. An Emsbo jumper initiated the visitors’ scoring for the quarter, and their defense markedly improved, allowing 17 fewer points than the first.
However, foul trouble plagued key Duke players — Kennedy Brown, Donovan, and Reigan Richardson — as a consequence of their intensified defensive efforts. Despite the challenges, the Blue Devils managed to bring the score within 10, showcasing resilience and defensive adjustments that held Stanford to only 13 points compared to their own 18 in the second quarter. Duke’s overall shooting percentage also improved to 42.4% by the end of the half, demonstrating its ability to finally get hot.
The Blue Devils’ first-half offensive efforts were led by sophomore guard Taina Mair with 11 points, but the team faced challenges in maintaining offensive consistency against Stanford's formidable defense.
As the third quarter unfolded, Duke emerged with an explosive burst of energy, firing on all cylinders to mount a comeback against the Cardinals. Trailing by 12 points, Duke's trio of Emsbo, Richardson, and Donovan orchestrated a rapid offensive surge, slashing the deficit to a mere seven points in under one minute. Iriafen began the scoring for Stanford, but Duke's dynamic trio wasted no time in showcasing their determination. The court saw a masterful display of Duke's intensity and ability to swiftly pick up the pace. Donovan in particular demonstrated Duke’s intensity and ability to quickly gain momentum, going coast-to-coast and dropping in a crowd-silencing layup.
Adding fuel to the fiery Duke resurgence, Jackson came alive in the third quarter, sinking three triples that not only closed the gap but brought Duke level with Stanford for the first time since the opening minute of the game. The offensive onslaught, in which the Blue Devils shot at an impressive 41.2% from the field and maintained a 50% accuracy from beyond the arc, compared to Stanford’s 16.7% field-goal percentage and goose egg from the 3-point line, coupled with the defensive tenacity and pressure demonstrated by Duke set the stage for a thrilling game-deciding battle in the fourth quarter.
“We knew that it was gonna be a battle, but we got to it and the last two quarters and we just let our defense talk for us,” Jackson said.
Up next for the Blue Devils is a clash with local Durham rival N.C. Central Tuesday before a trip to Athens, Ga., for a battle with Georgia.
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