'Locked in defensively': Duke women’s basketball uses maturity, wire-to-wire performance to defeat No. 6 NC State

Buy low, sell high. 

When asked about his team’s performance Sunday against the Blue Devils, N.C. State head coach Wes Moore pointed out Duke head coach Kara Lawson getting her team to “buy in defensively.” 

Lawson bought low — investing in eight underclassmen, but has shaped them into leaders of one of the most dominant defenses in the country, and used that defense to stifle a potent N.C. State attack for a second-straight ranked victory. 

Now, the Blue Devil stock is higher than ever. 

“They've just grown right before our eyes,” Lawson said. “And they've been able to, through the course of a really challenging schedule. It's not easy to grow in the midst of the ACC.” 

The team certainly showed growth Sunday, reversing a 72-57 defeat at the hands of the Wolfpack in Raleigh five weeks earlier and grabbing a 69-58 win for some sweet revenge. 

It was all Duke all day; the Blue Devils opened on a 11-2 run, fueled by two steals and three N.C. State airballs. Lawson’s team was not shooting lights-out, but was simply stout on the opposite end, bringing pressure that the Wolfpack never overcame. 

“It was really important that we started fast, just the way that we know how to play,” said senior center Kennedy Brown.

Duke held its opponents to just 21.4% shooting from the field through the first half, complete with four steals and a block. They themselves shot 48.5%, utilizing extra passes and easy midrange jumpers to maintain a healthy lead. 

“They make it really hard for you to operate on offense and [we] felt like we had prepared for some of that,” Moore said, “but [that] didn't necessarily transfer over to the game tonight.”

A bleak spot from Duke was its 3-of-12 mark from three in the first half, but it didn’t really need to make shots from deep to control the game. Utter dominance in the paint offensively gave Duke 16 of its 35 first-half points. The Blue Devils did a great job controlling the pace of play throughout the game — running fast on the break to garner a lot of points in transition. 

“We like to push in transition, because we can push the pace and we can get people tired in that sense,” Brown said. “We just keep coming in and we have the depth on our bench.” 

That depth and rotation has been a season-long development for Lawson’s team, but at this stage in the season, the Blue Devils seem to have started to click. Chemistry was on display all game Sunday, featuring loads of cutting and passing inside, and highlight-worthy dimes between multiple players. 

“I think that starts off the court, this team gets along so well off the court,” Brown said. “We spend a lot of time together, and so we know each other really well, and that translates onto the court.” 

The second half saw the Wolfpack dial it up offensively. Star shooter Aziaha James sank back-to-back three pointers, and it seemed like the Blue Devils might falter in the third- a familiar problem. But the team held strong, maintaining a lead that stretched to 20 at one point. But even as it faltered later, roughly a 10-point margin held and Duke iced the game on free throws. 

It was a sign of maturity and growth; several games this season have been marked by a failure to close out, but as the going got tough Sunday, the team rose to the challenge. 

“You knew they're going to make a run, and they made a couple at us,” Lawson said. “I thought we handled that pretty well, by being able to get stops when we needed them and then make enough plays.” 

While the Blue Devils are clicking at the right time, two tests remain that will have significant impacts on ACC tournament seeding. A Thursday date with Virginia at Cameron Indoor Stadium before a short trip to Chapel Hill Sunday against North Carolina are both games of high importance for the team. 

“We just wanted to challenge ourselves. And I think they've handled these challenges really well,” Lawson said. “We just embraced what our schedule was.”

The team has also embraced being a young one, and has not let it phase them. Having bought into being a strong group of defenders who play with passion, grit and purpose, Duke has shown it can compete with the best. 

“A lot was thrown at [the freshmen] very quickly, and they had to step in and take a big role right away,” Brown said. 

But youth is no barrier, numbers are no limit and the Blue Devil stock is headed to the moon. 


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