No way around it. The Duke women came out Thursday night and laid a great big egg against arch-rival North Carolina. The final was 78-62 if you’re into that sort of thing and that was only after Duke outscored Carolina’s deep bench 13-5 in the final three plus minutes.
The Blue Devils played without head coach Kara Lawson, out in health and safety protocols. Assistant Winston Gandy took the helm.
Duke found out Thursday morning that Lawson would be out.
Duke also was missing Celeste Taylor, still out with the shoulder injury suffered almost three weeks ago at Syracuse. And Nyah Green was out for “Violation of Team Standards.”
It actually started out well for Duke. It was a back-and-forth first quarter, with Duke using a 13-6 run to take a three-point lead into the final seconds.
Elizabeth Balogun had seven first-period points and seemed poised for a big night.
Duke would like to have those final seconds over. Carlie Littlefield drained a 3 with five seconds left and drew a foul on Elizabeth Balogun, Balogun’s second. Littlefield drained the foul shot, Carolina led 19-18 after one and Balogun took a seat.
Gandy said that sequence wasn’t critical.
“Even with that, we still came out of that quarter with only a one-point difference. You hate to foul but we still had three more quarters and I would argue that one one play didn’t change the outcome of the game.”
Maybe not. But something bad sure happened to Duke in the second period. Actually a whole bunch of something-bads. Pretty much anything that could have gone wrong for Duke in the second period went wrong. Duke couldn’t shoot, couldn’t defend and couldn’t hold on to the ball. The Tar Heels scored the first nine points, Jade Williams scored for Duke and then Carolina went on an 11-0 run.
That adds up to 20 points for North Carolina, two for Duke.
It was 47-26 at intermission.
Duke never really made a serious run after that.
The halftime stats were sobering. Duke had 11 turnovers, North Carolina 2. That lead to an 18-4 UNC advantage in points off turnovers, 11-4 in fast-break points.
Live-ball turnovers seguing into fast-break layups has been a problem for Duke this season and it was a big key to the second-period collapse.
“It was one of the those things where what Carolina does well is get out in transition,” Gandy said. “When you turn the ball over, it’s very hard to set your defense. We were able to play in the half-court but live-ball turnovers will get you every day of the week.”
“Coming in we knew that North Carolina was a really good defensive team,” Vanessa de Jesus said. “They played really well today, getting in the passing lane and putting pressure on us.”
Duke also couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. Balogun, de Jesus, Shayeann Day-Wilson, Jade Williams and Onome Akinbode-James all had two fouls at halftime and most of them sat on the bench for large portions of the half as a result. De Jesus played six minutes in the first half, Balogun just over nine.
Down two players, foul trouble was the last thing Duke needed.
“You get into your bench early and into your rotation early,” Gandy said. “We would love to have your set rotation but when you pick up fouls, it kind of puts a squeeze on everybody. It’s kind of a by-committee effort. You try to protect the players as much as you can so you don’t lose the aggressiveness that you want them to be able to play with.”
De Jesus was one of those hampered players.
“Just being smart as a defender and knowing the player I’m guarding” is a key to making sure this doesn’t keep happening.
Duke shot 34.5 percent from the field in the first half, 2 for 12 from beyond the arc, while UNC shot 54.3 percent, including 4 of 9 on 3-pointers in the first half. Combined with the turnovers, well, that’s how you fall 21 points behind.
You can’t even think about overcoming a deficit of that magnitude without getting lots of stops and Duke didn’t come close. You also can’t shoot 25 percent from the floor, as Duke did in the third period. Duke was outscored 14-12 in the third period and that was it. Miela Goodchild was back in the lineup and got hot late but it was way too little, way too late.
Gandy said he liked his team’s fight in the second half and Duke did outscore Carolina 36-31 after intermission. But it never really seemed like Duke was even close to getting back in the game.
Balogun and Goodchild led Duke with 14 points each. Duke held Carolina’s Deja Kelly to seven points, 10 under her average. But Alyssa Ustby was un-guardable and lit up Duke to the tune of 20 points and six rebounds, while Kennedy Todd-Williams added 15.
Duke did out-rebound UNC 44-35, However, Duke only had a 9-7 edge in second-chance points, while the visitors leveraged Duke’s 18 turnovers—and their miserly six-into a a 27-11 advantage in points off turnovers and a 19-12 advantage in fast-break points.
Duke had a five-game winning streak against their rivals and could have evened the all-time series record with a win.
No idea when Lawson, Taylor and Green will get back. There was lots of talk about fixing the problems in practice. But Duke’s next two games are at Louisville and at home against Georgia Tech, with not a lot of practice time looming in the short term. Duke’s national ranking is gone absent a stunning win at Louisville and at 4-4 in the ACC (13-5 overall) Duke needs to play a lot better to get advantageous seeding for March’s ACC Tournament.
Not a good night in Cameron. Not at all.