Duke women's basketball breezes past Pittsburgh behind stifling defense, shared scoring effort

Kennedy Brown lets loose an open three during Duke's loss at N.C. State.
Kennedy Brown lets loose an open three during Duke's loss at N.C. State.

PITTSBURGH—Good teams win big on occasions, but great teams are able to dominate their opponents time and time again. 

Duke has strung together a series of emphatic wins to strengthen its claim at the ACC’s upper echelon. It grabbed another one Thursday night, never letting its foot off the gas in a 69-38 rout of Pittsburgh.

The game got off to an extremely slow start with both teams combining for just five points in the first five minutes. Pittsburgh did not score its first point until sinking a free throw with 4:44 remaining in the quarter. Unlike in most instances, it was not a case of both teams being unable to hit the bottom of the net, but rather struggling to even get shots up. The game looked as if it was heading towards the path of a defensive showdown, but it was the Blue Devils’ offense that woke up in the waning minutes, allowing them to start pulling away. They finished the quarter with a 14-3 lead, once again flexing their premier defense as they held the home squad to just 1-for-6 shooting. 

“It is nice to have a defense that can keep you in the games,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “And we know that, we believe that if we don't play our A-game offensively, we can still win. And so it's nice to know that and have a team that feels confident in that.”

The second quarter began with a lot more fire. In just three minutes, both teams combined for more than they scored in the entirety of the first. While Duke (14-7, 6-4 in the ACC) maintained a mostly balanced attack, Pittsburgh’s stars began to shine and carry their team’s offensive load, with Liatu King and Jala Jordan scoring 12 of their 15 points in the quarter. In response, Duke’s own star, Reigan Richardson, got it going as well, hitting two threes that kept the Panthers (7-14, 1-7) from building momentum. 

“We just told our players to make it as difficult as possible for her, try to limit her catches, limit her opportunities,” Lawson said about King. “I feel by and large, we did a solid job on her, but she's definitely one of the harder players to guard.

Unlike Pittsburgh, the Blue Devils did not need to be at their best in the halfcourt. Their defense was their best offense. With about three minutes to go in the half, Emma Koabel ripped a Pittsburgh player near the halfway line, creating an easy fast-break layup for herself on the other end. Duke thrived off these opportunities, creating 17 points off turnovers to Pittsburgh's one in the first two periods. 

In the back half of the quarter it began to apply more pressure on the Panthers, causing them to go on a nearly six-minute scoring drought, where the Blue Devils extended their lead to as much as 16 points. A Pittsburgh 3-pointer did, however, shrink it back down to 13. That made shot from deep was just their second of the game so far.

The Blue Devils began the second half aggressively, making it clear that they were not going to get complacent despite their large lead. Oluchi Okananwa hit a tough and-one layup in the first possession, followed by a crafty finish in the paint by Taina Mair. 

After a couple forced turnovers, the ball got back to Richardson's hot hand where she drained her third three in just four attempts, giving Duke its biggest lead of the game. The Panthers were resilient, however, subsequently putting together their best run of the game — 6-2 in a three-minute span. 

Unfortunately for them, it did not amount to much as the Blue Devils were simply the better team. Even when they could piece together stretches of great basketball, it could not make up for the rest of the time when Duke was consistently out-playing them on both ends of the floor. 

The Panthers entered the final period with just three total assists, an indication of just how lifeless their halfcourt offense had been. In part due to lackluster ball movement, an inability to hit shots and Duke’s smart defensive game plan, they were held to just 30.4% shooting from the field and 18.2% from behind the arc. The most staggering disparity of all came on the glass, where the Blue Devils bullied their opponents in the second half, out-rebounding the Panthers 23-10.

“I thought in the second half we did a good job of finding the mismatches and getting the ball into the paint,” Lawson said. “We challenged them at halftime to be better on the glass. I think we were only plus three at halftime on the glass and we ended plus-16.”

The Blue Devils return to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Wake Forest at 7pm next Thursday.


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