DURHAM, N.C. – The 13th-ranked Duke Blue Devils dominated the eighth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats and came up with an impressive 89-68 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
The victory was Duke’s third in a row at home over a five-day span which included recent wins over UMass-Lowell (95-48) and Oklahoma (92-72).
“Just a good game for us to play before Christmas,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“Obviously an aggressive game and we got to really test ourselves out in a couple areas. I was really happy to see us have such balanced scoring and look for each other. Some pretty good defense there but we can improve on that. Overall, just a good strong game for us to get better to take into the holiday season and to learn from as we go on to next week.”
For the second consecutive game, Duke (8-3) had six players finish with double-digit scoring totals.
Azura Stevens led Duke with 17 points and nine rebounds while Elizabeth Williams finished with a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) to go along with three assists and three blocks.
Sierra Calhoun (13 points, 7 rebounds), Rebecca Greenwell (13 points, 5 rebounds), Amber Henson (11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), and Oderah Chidom (10 points, 2 rebounds) helped to contribute to Duke’s 56-percent shooting performance.
Jennifer O’Neill (17 points, 3 assists, 4 steals), Alexis Jennings (17 points 3 rebounds), and Azia Bishop (15 points, 5 rebounds) countered for the Wildcats who couldn’t provide enough finish against a Duke defense that held them to a season-low 31-percent shooting.
“Tough game for us obviously today,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said.
“Not what we wanted. You get on the road against a good team and shoot so poorly. I thought really at the beginning of the game we were really doing a good job attacking their zone, really able to create open shots, just a really tough shooting day.”
Both teams started with quick shot attempts within the first 30 seconds of play, but each missed them.
Greenwell then opened the game’s scoring with a three from the right baseline.
Williams was strong off the defensive boards early as Kentucky (10-2) struggled to score.
Duke extended its lead to 6-0 with a three-pointer from Calhoun before the Wildcats converted their first field goal.
The Blue Devils continued their early scoring run and led 13-4 after the first five minutes of play.
Duke was converting at 50-percent shooting while Kentucky couldn’t keep up at only 18 percent.
The Wildcats worked hard to chip away at Duke’s early lead, but the Blue Devils’ offensive pace remained steady.
After Chidom dropped two free throws, Duke led 21-10 at the midpoint of the opening half.
Kentucky found its shooting stroke around the nine-minute mark and put together a 6-2 run that cut the Blue Devils lead to seven points.
Mitchell called a timeout following a well-executed, inside-outside-inside, give-and-go between Williams and Henson that extended the Duke lead to 27-16 with six minutes to play.
Duke’s offensive play and length in defending continued to create major problems for Kentucky as the Blue Devils finished the half on a 26-9 run and led 49-26.
O’Neill paced Kentucky and came out firing in the second half scoring four points to ignite a quick 11-4 run.
Duke worked to keep its sizable margin while faced with a more aggressive Wildcats press that drew them into more turnovers.
In three minutes, Kentucky cut the Duke lead to 14 points, 53-17.
The Blue Devils increased their defensive pressure while also presenting Williams, Stevens and Chidom as backcourt floor generals in starting the offense.
All three interchanged opportunities to run up the court and score points, a new scheme, but one that came with some trouble along the way.
“It’s been in the mix,” McCallie said of the strategy.
“It has been in the mix from the beginning of the season. We have a lot of confidence in our posts’ ability to attack and they had opportunities off the bounce. I just think that we did a bit better job of it today overall. Now we still had turnovers. The posts had a lot of turnovers. We’re a work in progress with that, but I think we all have a great deal of confidence in finding mismatches and executing.”
The Wildcats continued to score as Duke settled into facing a tougher defensive setup.
The Blue Devils eventually found open seams and created even more offense through them.
“I’d say it was the players that figured it out and it think we have to continue to have the players figure things out on the floor,” McCallie said.
“I thought they did a great job. Great job playing together, playing smart, understanding what we were trying to do. I think everyone was locked in. I didn’t sense anyone drifting out. I thought everybody was really focused to do what we do.”
Williams brought the crowd to its feet when she scored a layup to complete a baseball-pass-and-volley play with the help of Calhoun and Ka’lia Johnson (7 points, 6 assists) that put Duke ahead 58-39.
Even as Kentucky tried to improve its poor three-point shooting (2-24) with a successful try, Calhoun went the other way to match it with an and-1.
The Blue Devils led 61-44 with 13:12 to play.
Neither team let up, even with missed shots and turnovers at both ends, as they kept going to the basket aggressively.
The Blue Devils maintained their shooting stroke at close to 60 percent and held onto their double-digit lead, 74-56 with eight minutes to play.
Duke’s productive work at the free throw line, finishing 25-of-34, only compounded Kentucky’s urgency in trying to come back as many of it starters got into foul trouble.
The Blue Devils led 83-65 with four minutes to play.
Try as they did, the Wildcats couldn’t keep up with the Blue Devils who finished the game on a 12-6 run.
The game ended with the rambunctious crowd dressed in festive sweaters cheering “our house” as the game entered its final minute of play.
With all starters except Stevens on the bench, the Blue Devils’ reserves played out the remainder of the game and handed the Wildcats their worse loss of the season to date.
Notes: Even with the resounding win over a Top-10 team, the Blue Devils committed a season-high 25 turnovers…Duke shot over 50 percent from the field for the third game this season…Duke’s promotions team attempted to break a Guinness Book of World Records mark for the largest gathering of holiday sweaters. Fans who wore a holiday sweater to the game received free admission. Unfortunately, the effort fell 303 appropriately-themed sweaters short…Duke will finish the year with another challenge when it travels to Hartford, Conn., to face second-ranked Connecticut on Nov. 29.