Duke used a barrage of 3-pointers, interior dominance and career performances from its two top reserves to defeat Pittsburgh 86-64 Wednesday night in the ACC women’s tournament opening round.
Duke moves to 15-14 on the season and plays Florida State in tomorrow’s final game.
Pitt ends its season at 11-20.
Pitt came out with energy and determination, out-working Duke for loose balls. In fact, the undersized Panthers outrebounded Duke 10-5 in the first quarter.
Haley Gorecki opened the scoring with a three-pointer. But Duke came up empty on its next seven possessions, falling behind 7-3.
Pitt led 9-6 at the media timeout.
As has happened so often, Faith Suggs came off the bench and gave Duke energy, digging out a tough rebound and then hitting a 3-pointer to tie it at 9-9.
Gorecki gave Duke an 11-9 lead with a layup and Duke finished the first period with a 16-13 lead.
Duke had four first-period 3-pointers but only a pair of two pointers and turned it over five times.
Pitt knocked down five 3-pointers in the second period, two each by Jasmine Whitney and Cassidy Walsh and led 27-23, with 7:01 left.
Then the wheels came off.
“I think they were executing and playing good basketball and finding their shooters,” Joanne P. McCallie said. “From our perspective, our team tightened up defensively. We made some switches and it was excellent to turn it [the deficit] over very quickly.”
Duke got stick-backs by Suggs and Jade Williams wrapped around a Gorecki layup to take a 29-27 lead and force Pitt to call a timeout, with 5:35 left.
The Panthers regained the lead at 30-29, on a Whitney 3-pointer. But Duke used a 9-2 run to take a 36-30 lead. Pitt got the last basket of the half and went into intermission down 36-32.
“We had a few turnovers after that [the 27-23 lead],” said Pitt coach Lance White. “We’ve been a team that’s really battled confidence, that once we’re hit, to get back up. We have to keep fighting but sometimes our confidence gets shaken. Once they tied it up, our confidence was shaken.”
Duke outrebounded Pitt 10-4 in the second period, while forcing 10 first-half turnovers.
“Coach always preaches on rebounding,” Suggs said, “especially in ACC tournament play. I just wanted to get rebounds. That’s how you get energy. You get rebounds and everything follows.”
Duke exploded out of halftime. Leaonna Odom scored six points in the first two minutes. Duke was up a dozen after three minutes and Pitt did not have the resources to answer. Miela Goodchild and Jayda Adams hit 3-pointers and the rout was on.
The third period ended with Duke up 60-43. Duke hit 9-of-17 from the field in the third period, out-rebounding Pitt 13-6, while forcing four turnovers and holding Pitt to 11 points.
“Just playing off of each other,” McCallie said of Duke’s third-quarter defense, “intensity, regardless of time and score. I thought we rebounded well. It was a little bit of everybody getting in and fighting for the ball. In tournaments, it’s all about the ball, about getting and keeping the ball.”
Pitt never made a run in the fourth. Duke rested its key players as much as a team with a nine-player roster can. Suggs (16) and Adams (13) took advantage of the extra minutes by posting career highs in scoring. The duo combined for 5-for-5 on 3-pointers.
“An all-around complete game,” McCallie said,” of Suggs. “She either had every hustle play or was involved in it. It was no surprise to any of us.”
Goodchild led all scorers with 19 points, including 5-of-8 on 3s. She passed Rebecca Greenwell to become Duke’s top freshman in total 3s made.
And then there was Gorecki, Duke’s only All-ACC performer. She posted a typical Gorecki stat line; 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, a blocks and two steals.
“Every time Haley had the ball, she was a threat,” McCallie said of her one-woman wrecking ball.
Believe it or not, this was Gorecki’s first post-season game, injuries having kept her on the sideline up to now.
“It’s exciting, especially with this group of girls. We’re a great group and we’re playing our best basketball right now.”
Duke had 20 assists on its 32 made field-goals, Odom leading with eight.
Duke has won four straight and the win puts Duke over .500 for the first time since January 17.
Florida State edged Duke 66-62 earlier this year, at FSU. Gorecki (25), Odom (20) and Jade Williams (17) led Duke in that game.
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