Despite encouraging start, Duke women's basketball falls to No. 19 Notre Dame after turnover-ridden second half

Reigan Richardson bounces for a layup during the first half of Duke's matchup with Notre Dame.
Reigan Richardson bounces for a layup during the first half of Duke's matchup with Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish may go down but never count them out. 

Despite being a Monday night, the energy was palpable for Duke’s annual Pink Out against No. 19 Notre Dame. Both came into the contest coming off of ACC losses, Duke against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame against N.C. State. Tied at 8-5 in the ACC going into the game, the teams needed a win to advance their standings looking ahead to the rapidly approaching ACC tournament. 

“Do we play with the appropriate level of effort and focus and discipline?” Duke head coach Kara Lawson asked after the loss. “We've got to get that back. We didn't have that tonight. And so that's my fault as a coach that we didn't have it tonight.”

Early in the second half, the home team looked like it would pull off the upset and send the visitors back to South Bend, Ind., with another tick in the loss column, but Notre Dame fought back viciously, snatching the lead away from the Blue Devils and walking away with the 70-62 win. 

From tipoff, it became clear that this would be a game of defenses, not offenses. Notre Dame’s airtight defense put the Blue Devils (16-9, 8-6 in the ACC) into high-pressure situations, giving them no time to search for open looks, forcing them to make bad passes, and leading to a high number of turnovers that led to Duke’s downfall down the stretch. The Blue Devils have struggled with giving the ball away throughout the season, and against Notre Dame (19-6, 9-5), turnovers led to 23 points for their opponent. 

Although the Blue Devils led 30-27 at the half, the Fighting Irish, unsurprisingly, made it clear that they would not go down without a fight. Duke could never establish a comfortable lead, and anytime it felt like it might, Notre Dame came back, never letting the game get too far away and keeping the Blue Devils on their toes. 

Notre Dame managed to take back a slim lead late in the third quarter, and after a series of Blue Devil turnovers and an 8-0 Notre Dame run, Lawson called a timeout to try and refocus her team as they searched for the upset.

Coming out of the timeout, the Blue Devils sought to regain the momentum they had earlier in the game, employing a full-press defense to stop Notre Dame’s hot scoring streak. With every shot falling perfectly for the Fighting Irish and Duke unable to establish a clear offensive rhythm, it looked as though Notre Dame would walk out of Cameron Indoor with a comfortable win. 

Keeping the game fast-paced was clearly the plan for both teams, who competed at a break-neck speed full of steals, rebounds and fast breaks. But Duke’s aggressive defensive approach meant that both Taina Mair and Oluchi Okananwa had two fouls by the middle of the second quarter and spent the majority of the period on the bench, depriving the Blue Devils of two key pieces of their game plan. 

“Defensively, we struggled to execute,” Lawson said. “And I thought we just gave up too many open looks. Too many defensive breakdowns for us.”

Scrappy defense has always been Duke’s speciality, but the Fighting Irish matched the hosts in their ability to stifle whatever offensive scheme Lawson and her assistant coaches drew up. 

Led by freshman phenom Hannah Hidalgo, the Fighting Irish entered Monday’s contest leading the ACC in points scored per game, meaning that the Blue Devils would need their strongest defense to come out on top. Their resilient, never-give-up attitude kept the game close for long stretches and held Notre Dame to 70 points, still below its season average even when Duke’s own shooting was subpar.

Hidalgo opened up the second half with a 3-pointer, immediately re-establishing her offensive presence and tying the game. Not to be outdone, Mair responded with a three of her own, once more extending Duke’s slim lead. 

Mair’s three set off a spark for her Duke sisters. In the following two Duke possessions, Donovan made two reverse layups. After a quiet night against Virginia Tech, Donovan clearly came home to Cameron Indoor on a mission, scoring 10 points and rebounding the ball eight times.

Still, the Fighting Irish refused to go down. Hidalgo, especially, flew around the court, grasping for steals and reaching for the ball whenever possible to inevitably drive back down the court for Notre Dame points. 

“This far in the year, we have to do a little bit better and pay a little more attention to detail,” said junior guard Reigan Richardson.

With Hidalgo on their side, the Fighting Irish relied heavily on their star freshman for points down the stretch as they ran away with the lead.

Richardson took much of the offensive burden for Duke upon herself, leading her team with 23 points and providing an offensive spark when her team needed it, late in the fourth quarter as the Blue Devils attempted to mount a comeback. 

“They forced us to play hesitant. We kept trying to just implore all of our players to be aggressive,” Lawson said. “And that was a challenge for us to get anyone other than Reigan to be aggressive against the zone.”

But despite the offensive spark Richardson provided, for every point Duke scored, Notre Dame answered with one of its own, finally managing to find the offensive rhythm it had lacked in the first half. 

Just when it looked like the Fighting Irish were putting the game to rest, an Ashlon Jackson 3-pointer cut the lead down to seven and gave the Blue Devils brief hope for a comeback, but Hidalgo responded with what she does best, scoring points, killing Duke’s chance at a win. 

Duke now travels north, hoping for a road rebound against ACC foe Syracuse Thursday night. 


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