Duke women's basketball executes upset-seeking gameplan, but South Carolina's talent, size won out

Reigan Richardson (17 points) puts up a jumper against South Carolina.
Reigan Richardson (17 points) puts up a jumper against South Carolina.

Everyone is familiar with the story of David vs. Goliath: little David defeating a powerful Goliath by being quick-witted and sharp. In Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils played the role of David for the first three-and-a-half quarters against No. 1 South Carolina; however, as the game drew to its closing stages, it was clear that the Gamecocks, led by senior center Kamilla Cardoso and sophomore forward Chloe Kitts, were too much for Duke to handle

As far as upsets go, the box score indicated the perfect storm for head coach Kara Lawson’s squad: 18 Blue Devil fast break points, a 47.8% 3-point shooting percentage and 20 Gamecock turnovers kept Duke competitive. 

The game plan was clear from Lawson and executed well by her players. The Blue Devils were never going to win this matchup on the offensive end by scoring in the paint and running sets. Rather, in an environment where Duke was physically undermatched, the team shot 3-pointers and ran in transition. And for most of the game, the plan worked. 

“I thought when we were at our best there was that pace of the transition,” Lawson said after the game. “When it slowed down, slow goes to the bigger people. That's how it works.”

For the Blue Devils, it was the usual candidates that stepped up to propel the team into a competitive matchup. Looking to keep up with South Carolina’s interior dominance, junior guard Reigan Richardson shot 5-for-9 from three and sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson added three triples of her own. To end the third quarter and start the fourth, Richardson nailed back-to-back threes, and after a 15-point third quarter deficit, Duke found itself tied with head coach Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks. 

“Everybody kept telling me to keep shooting, so I just kept shooting…” Richardson said. “It was a great feeling.”

However, as the clock wound down in Durham, so did the Blue Devils’ offensive execution, and Cardoso began to dominate in the interior on both ends, just as she has all season. South Carolina was able to put its foot down, and seemingly out of nowhere, the Gamecocks took a 77-61 victory back to Columbia, S.C. 

“Their defense turned up, no doubt, in the fourth quarter,” Lawson said. “You know, our execution was poor. I thought that was the difference.”

In the third quarter, Duke responded to South Carolina’s 12-point run with a nine point run of its own which extended into the fourth. In a stadium with a lot of black and maroon in the stands, it was the Blue Devil faithful whose voices rang true midway through the final period. 

To balance the clear size difference, Lawson instructed her guards to not only put relentless pressure on the ball, but help down low and swipe at the rock. Freshman Jadyn Donovan was the clearest of examples as the guard blocked four shots and came away with two steals.

“I got a group of fighters, and they're gonna compete,” Lawson said. 

The consequences of Lawson’s physical defensive gameplan were two-fold. While the pressure forced South Carolina into 20 turnovers, 14 in the first half, Duke racked up 19 fouls compared to the Gamecocks’ six, contributing to South Carolina’s 16 points from the line.

“You guys saw the foul differential, and you guys saw the free throw differential,” Lawson told the media after the game. “You can make your own conclusions from that.”

The Blue Devils were prepared and executed Lawson’s upset-seeking gameplan to a T, but in the end, South Carolina was just a more talented squad. Seeing its team fight in two top-10 matchups is a promising sight for the Duke community, yet in college sports, there are no moral victories. 

While the Blue Devils should not hang their heads, the reality is that they were half of a quarter away from a program-defining victory, but again headed to the locker room without Gatorade showers or buoyant post game pressers.

“This is a long season, and we've got to keep growing and keep getting better as a group…” Lawson said. “There's just a lot of growth to capture still in our season, so hopefully, we'll do that.”

The Blue Devils open ACC play on the road at Clemson this Thursday, and against a team that is 4-0 at home, they will need to continue to progress as a group to return with a victory. 


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