Defensive blueprint shines for Duke women's basketball in road rout of Pittsburgh

Reigan Richardson scans the floor during Duke's January win against Virginia Tech.
Reigan Richardson scans the floor during Duke's January win against Virginia Tech.

PITTSBURGH— A week prior to its Thursday trip to the Steel City, Duke executed a complete slamdown of Florida State. This Thursday evening was no different — except instead of defeating the Seminoles, the Blue Devils shut down the Panthers 69-38.

However, the game started off slow scoring for Duke. In the first five minutes of the game, the Blue Devils only scored five points. And from 9:41 to 7:35 in the first quarter, both teams scored zero points. 

“I'm just trying to figure out ways to get our offense sparked sooner,” head coach Kara Lawson said postgame. “We just kind of were missing some easy layups and missing free throws in the first half and not catching passes.”

Duke has had trouble on the road this season, going 4-5 in its away games. Thursday night was only their second ACC road win. Inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils ride on the energy of the crowd, but at away venues, all that energy is directed against them. 

“The ball is different. The locker room is different. The bed is different. I mean, everything's different,” Lawson said. “And so being able to figure out how to win in spite of all those differences is a hard thing … Tonight was good, being able to get another road win, and I'm proud of the team.”

Despite Duke’s initial faltering, the Panthers were playing much, much worse. For the first five minutes of the game, Pittsburgh didn’t score. Head coach Tory Verdi was clearly not happy with his team’s measly total of three points in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Panthers came out blazing — for a moment, the Blue Devils seemed to startle, letting in jumpers and threes from Panther senior forward King Liatu. However, after a timeout at just over halfway into the quarter, Duke once again held Pittsburgh scoreless until just seconds before the half.

A key part of the Panthers’ downfall was, of course, the Blue Devils’ signature defensive prowess. Duke truly acted as a wall against Pittsburgh. The Panthers could barely move the ball around or get open. While Pittsburgh had moments of surging back among Duke’s stone-hard defense, the Blue Devils always won out. Not once did Duke lose its lead.

“I thought we played really well, defensively,” Lawson said, “It is nice to have defense that can keep you in the games … We believe that if we don't play our game offensively, we can still win.”

Offensively, despite a slow ramp-up, Duke continued to capitalize on turnovers through the game, scoring a total of 26 points from giveaways. In the paint, the Blue Devils were able to make use of holes in Panther defense. This often kept Pittsburgh scoreless and Duke scoring: the Blue Devils’ longest run during the game was an impressive 11 points.

“I thought in the first half, we attacked and got to the free-throw line,” Lawson said. “And I thought in the second half we did a good job of finding the mismatches and getting the ball into the paint.”

Junior guard Reigan Richardson was on fire during the game, grabbing a formidable 17 points — more than her overall 11.4 average heading into the game — and three assists. Her contribution completely boosted the team’s offense.

“When Reagan plays well, offensively, we're a different team,” Lawson said. “She's kind of scuffled in ACC play from beyond the arc. But I never lost confidence in her ability to shoot — she's a wonderful scorer.”

Still, the Blue Devils’ win was a team effort. Kennedy Brown was also blazing with 13 points of her own. As usual, the bench contributed immensely on the scoreboard, adding 21 points. On the other side, Liatu completely dominated Pittsburgh’s scoring with 16 points. The rest of the Panthers couldn’t make double digits.

“I thought we forced her into some tough shots, and she still made them,” Lawson said of Liatu. “There's not much you can do when a player is doing that … I feel by and large, we did a solid job on her.”

The Blue Devils ended their matchup tonight with confidence — not only confidence on the court, but most importantly in their ability to win in conference play on the road. 

“To be able to get our second road win in league play, is something that I'm proud of our young group for being able to do,” Lawson said.


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