Lack of star power, share-the-wealth offense condemns Duke women's basketball to defeat against Notre Dame

Hannah Hidalgo (left) battles for a bucket during her 23-point demolition of Duke's defense Monday night.
Hannah Hidalgo (left) battles for a bucket during her 23-point demolition of Duke's defense Monday night.

They may have worn pink, but the end result was not pretty for the Blue Devils Monday night.

In its 70-62 loss to Notre Dame, Duke once again showed its most fatal flaw: It lacks the offense, and by proxy the star power, to take down top-flight teams. Without a proven superstar, the Blue Devils simply cannot hang with teams that possess elite players and play solid team basketball, a formula the Fighting Irish demonstrated in a key matchup at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

“We struggled tonight, I thought Notre Dame did a great job of turning us over and getting out in transition, having 23 points off those turnovers really hurt us,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “Obviously, the third quarter was the quarter that we struggled, they were able to get separation, and then we just weren't able to close it.”

Last Thursday, Elizabeth Kitley was the downfall of Duke’s chances at a major upset win on the road against Virginia Tech, as the superstar center had 34 points and decimated the usually stout Blue Devil interior defense. Despite Lawson’s squad playing an overall impressive game, they simply did not have the firepower to prevail over the Kitley-led Hokies.

Monday night told largely the same story. Despite  leading at the half, Notre Dame, led by standout freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo, pulled away down the stretch, overwhelming a Duke unit that is still developing its younger pieces. 

“I got sped up, I had a lot of turnovers,” said junior guard Reigan Richardson. “I feel like with the defensive breakdowns that were happening in the game, I feel like this far in the year, we have to do a little bit better and pay a little more attention to detail and things like that.”

From the opening tip, both teams came out playing at a break-neck pace, content to turn the ball over in order to keep hunting shots on the fast-break. Despite having six turnovers in the first period, Duke was able to stay neck-and-neck with one of the best offenses in the country, as Kennedy Brown was able to anchor the defense inside and force errant passes on the perimeter.

Richardson is Duke’s best offensive player and has been all season long, and the junior was the driving force all night for the Blue Devils. In the first half, the Charlotte native had 12 points and was largely the only guard who showed the willingness to drive into the heart of the menacing Fighting Irish zone. Her efforts led Duke to a slim three-point lead after 20 minutes of play, but things devolved quickly from there. 

Coming out of the locker room, the Blue Devils could not sustain the same level of play, as the defense began to buckle under the constant turnovers produced by the offense. Lawson’s group had 21 giveaways compared to only 15 assists on the night. Eight of those costly errors came in the third quarter, as Duke could only muster nine points and the visitors went on a 14-0 run that propelled them to victory. 

Hidalgo entered the contest third in the country in scoring, while also contributing 5.3 assists and an astounding five steals per contest, and the rookie was spectacular in her first game at Cameron Indoor. The Haddonfield, N.J., native was a nuisance for the Blue Devils all night, posting 23 points and four steals, largely removing whatever guard she was matched up with out of the game entirely.

“She's great. She had a couple on me too, she caught me by surprise a couple of times,” Richardson said. “I mean, she's just super quick. She's a great athlete, gotta give all credit to her.”

For the majority of the night, these matchups were at the disadvantage of Ashlon Jackson and Oluchi Okananwa, who were non-factors throughout the game. The pair are the fourth- and third-leading scorers on the team across the campaign, but combined for just six points Monday on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. Hidalgo pressured them into turnovers and ill-advised shot attempts repeatedly, displaying her elite instincts on the defensive end. 

As good as Richardson is, she is not yet the caliber of player that can go blow-for-blow with the nation’s best night in and night out. When Duke’s defense falters, it can become extremely challenging to knock off any team with a good offense. When March Madness rolls around and every top team has microwave scorers, Richardson’s efforts may not be enough to will the Blue Devils to victory.

Much of this is not necessarily a fault on the players, as the majority of the lineup Lawson trots out is filled with underclassmen who are nowhere near complete products yet, and that’s perfectly fine. But against the best of the best, a developmental squad will not cut it. 

“That's what this league is. You don't play with great competitiveness, you will not win. And to be quite honest with you, you don't deserve to win,” Lawson said. “Think about it, if you're in a competition and you don't play competitively, you think you should win?”

Moving forward, Duke cannot afford to have an off night from any of its major contributors on offense if it wants to prevail, as back-to-back matchups with ranked opponents loom. The Blue Devils have not proven to have a player who is dynamic enough to pick them up out of a slog on any given night. This will force the team to play with sustained intensity and attention to detail in every contest remaining if it wants to make noise against the brightest stars in the sport in March. 

Next up, a matchup with Syracuse and elite playmaker Dyaisha Fair is on the docket, and if Duke does not bring its A-game, the losing streak may well extend to three up in New York.


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