CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Sunday afternoon’s meeting between Virginia and Duke was one of two teams coming off bad losses. The Blue Devils put up a poor performance against No. 17 Louisville, while the Cavaliers dropped a game to a weak Georgia Tech squad. With that in mind, both groups were looking to bounce back after less-than-ideal starts to ACC play. On Sunday, it was the Blue Devils who managed to turn things around and come out with a 60-56 victory.
“Dirty win for us,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “[The Cavaliers] made it hard on us. Just kept fighting back and we could never get a comfortable amount of separation … that’s just the way it goes in this league.”
In the fourth quarter, what remained of an already-tight began to shrink. A deep corner three from guard Jillian Brown cut the lead down to just three points, and it was clear that Virginia was still very much in the game. A putback from freshman forward Delaney Thomas on a missed shot from the charity stripe pushed the lead out to 52-44, and the pivotal moment came when fifth-year forward Camryn Taylor picked up her fifth foul and exited the game with just over five minutes left.
Both teams struggled to get going in the first minute, but it was the Cavaliers who seemed to continue floundering. They recorded just two points in the first four minutes, along with an ugly four turnovers. The Duke (10-5, 2-2 in the ACC) defense was stifling, as blocks and steals abounded. On the offensive end, the visiting group looked better than it did against Louisville. An 11-2 run to open the game capped off by a bold shot behind the arc by freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa forced an early timeout.
But Virginia (8-6, 1-2) began to push back out of the timeout. The Cavaliers went on their own 10-2 run to quickly pull themselves back into the game. Graduate forward Sam Brunelle rallied her team and sparked an energetic response from the crowd when she was fouled behind the arc by sophomore guard Taina Mair and drained all three of her charity shots.
The second quarter was back-and-forth, as Duke looked to play its fast-paced and transition-heavy game while the Cavaliers attempted to slow things down and create quality shots for themselves. Neither team was able to assert their will over the opponents, as the two teams traded scores to keep the margin tight.
Towards the end of the first half, the Duke offense began to sputter. Shots stopped falling and several traveling violations were called. Despite that, the defense held strong, forcing turnovers and bad shots to give the Blue Devils plenty of opportunities on the other end. At the end of 20 minutes, Duke found itself up 30-26 after a late deep attempt by sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson fell short. Overall, the Blue Devils shot just 2-for-18 from behind the arc, and a meager, 56% from the charity stripe.
“I thought we missed a lot of easy shots,” Lawson said. “... But the fact that we were able to win a game in spite of that performance is encouraging.”
A good defensive performance from the visitors had kept them in the game and in the lead, but the scoring was subpar. Junior guard Reigan Richardson was one bright spot on offense for the Blue Devils, as she found her stroke early and had 12 points in the first two periods.
The second half opened in a similar manner to the first. The Blue Devils came out with a quick five-point run, as Thomas drained one from behind the arc and Richardson followed with a smooth layup in traffic. Virginia head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton recognized the early warning side of a sliding team and called a timeout to gather her players. From there, the Cavaliers once again bounced back. The margin was tight, but never sealed.
“We didn’t allow their runs when they got closer. We didn’t allow them to overtake the lead,” Lawson said. “This is all new experience for most of my players and it was good that they were able to get the win.”
Duke picked up four early fouls, capped off with an and-one play from fifth-year forward Camryn Taylor. The Cavaliers closed in on the deficit and brought their fans back into it. However, the visitors managed to regain their confidence. Just like the first half, the third quarter was a give-and-take period. Both teams would put together a small run, before giving up a few baskets to the other team. The whistles continued to sound liberally, as both teams had picked up five personal fouls with several minutes remaining in the third. Notably, four Cavaliers had already committed three infractions each with an entire quarter of basketball remaining. At the end of 30 minutes, it was still just a six-point game.
Despite the hosting team’s efforts down the stretch, the Blue Devils managed to close out the game late. Foul trouble continued to plague the Cavaliers, and ultimately led to their demise. Although it managed to bring the game within four in the final minute, Virginia could not seem to close the margin any tighter. Senior Kennedy Brown attempted the final shots from the line to finish out the game, and the clock ran out with a final four-point margin. Going forward into a tough ACC schedule, the victors will have many lessons to learn from the way this one played out.
“Our young players are understanding, this is every night,” Lawson said on the ACC’s strength and physicality. “This is how it is. It’s desperate, it’s physical, it’s tough, it’s competitive. And you just have to be able to match that to win a game in this league.”
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