DURHAM, N.C. – The 16th-ranked Duke Blue Devils overpowered the 12th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, 64-56, S in second-round play of the 2015 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
Azurá Stevens led all scorers with 22 points and 10 rebounds played a career-high 40 minutes as Duke shot 52 percent throughout, while Mississippi State converted at a 31-percent rate.
“What a great game, great second half for our team, and great energy,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“I’m very proud of our team, just great, great energy and focus.”
The win would not have been complete without strong and gutsy supporting performances from Rebecca Greenwell (17 points, 5 rebounds), Elizabeth Williams (12 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), and Ka’lia Johnson (10 rebounds, 3 rebounds, 4 assists).
The Blue Devils outrebounded the Bulldogs by a 42-31 margin led by Stevens, while Dominique Dillingham also claimed 10 rebounds for Mississippi State.
Duke committed only three second-half turnovers, after totaling 14 in the first to trail 28-24 at halftime.
While the Blue Devils blocked seven shots at the defensive end of the floor, they dominated in the paint at the other end, outscoring the Bulldogs 34-10 in close.
Match-up: After entering play in its 21st NCAA Tournament in the last 22 years, for the 16th time in school history and the fifth time over the last six years, the fourth-seeded Blue Devils advanced to the Sweet 16 round of play.
Duke and Mississippi State met for only the second time, last having played one another back on Nov. 25, 1995 when Duke earned a 72-67 win over the Bulldogs in the University of New Orleans Tournament.
The Bulldogs made their seventh overall NCAA Tournament appearance.
Duke – (24-46/4-11 3Ptr) Azura Stevens (22 points, 10 rebounds), Rebecca Greenwell (17 points, 5 rebounds), Elizabeth Williams (12 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists), Ka’lia Johnson (10 rebounds, 3 rebounds, 4 assists)
Mississippi State – (18-59/10-31 3Ptr) – Victoria Vivians (15 points, 6 rebounds), Kendra Grant (10 points, 3 rebounds), Morgan William (11 points, 4 assists)
Halftime: Mississippi State 28, Duke 24
Duke – (10-18/1-3 3Ptrs) – Azura Stevens (10 points, 3 rebounds), Elizabeth Williams (5 points, 5 rebounds)
Mississippi State – (10-33/7-17 3 Ptrs) – Kendra Grant (10 points, 3 rebounds), Victoria Vivians (7 points, 2 rebounds), Monique Dillingham (6 points, 4 rebounds)
What happened: Stevens powered Duke’s offense early on as the Blue Devils led 8-3 after the first five minutes of play.
Mississippi State struggled from the field, scoring only 2-of-12 to begin the game.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they didn’t fall too far behind as Duke turned the ball over numerous times during the first eight minutes of play.
Dillingham scored all of Mississippi State’s points to start, trailing Duke 10-6 with 11:33 to play.
Kendra Grant’s three put the Bulldogs ahead, leading 12-11 by the midpoint of the opening half.
She would successfully hit three shots from beyond the arc during the half to work around Duke’s long zone defense.
Stevens continued to be the Blue Devils’ go-to scoring source.
Mississippi State’s man-defense continued to slow Duke’s offensive movement and cut Greenwell off from any shot attempts during the half.
Duke’s zone slowed the Bulldogs and forced longer possessions in search of perimeter and mid-range shot attempts.
Mississippi State worked within that area, leading 18-16.
Stevens stayed hot and tied it up at 18 apiece with 4:32 to play.
Mississippi State continued to struggle from the field and Greenwell finally found an opening to put Duke ahead 21-18, dropping her first points of the game, a three from the top.
However, the Bulldogs then put together a 10-3 run that gave them a 28-24 lead by halftime.
While Stevens pulled Duke within two early, Mississippi State worked hard to put points on the board, and extended its lead to six points early in the second.
Greenwell connected on two three’s and pulled the Blue Devils to within three, trailing 37-34 with 15 minutes to play.
Injuries hampered the Blue Devils during the game as Erin Mathias didn’t return from the first half after a Mississippi State player rolled into her right leg.
During the second half, a collision between Williams and Kendall Cooper occurred while defending the lane.
Cooper was writhing in pain and holding her right knee afterward.
She slowly walked off the court and to the locker room with the team trainer by her side.
She eventually returned to the game.
When play resumed, Stevens scored, and at the other end Williams swatted a Mississippi State shot attempt away.
The Blue Devils trailed 37-36 with 12:27 to play.
Greenwell eventually put Duke ahead on an inbounds play finishing an easy layup inside.
A free throw and a jumper from the corner gave the Bulldogs the lead back, but Stevens put Duke back ahead 40-39.
A steal by Greenwell then put the Blue Devils in position to take advantage of Mississippi State’s slowed play and tempo at both ends of the court.
“We played a lot of different defenses,” McCallie said.
“We changed them a lot so we didn’t stay in anything that they could get comfortable in. We started the game in some basic things and then we had to see how the game broke. Then in the second half, we changed defenses much more so than we did in the first half.”
Williams pushed the advantage to three points with 10 minutes to go.
Duke struggled from the free throw line and failed to take a sizable lead as both Williams and Stevens missed shots.
Instead, back-to-back field goals, a jumper and a layup from Johnson gave the Blue Devils that extra surge, pushing the lead to 46-39.
“I think Ka’lia also gave us a really good boost,” Greenwell said.
“We ran a play and she scored two back-to-back layups, and that really gave us an edge.”
It extended a 16-2 run that the Blue Devils put together while Mississippi State had only hit on 2-of-11 shot attempts at the time.
The Duke lead grew to 11 points, the largest of the game, as Greenwell and Williams scored.
The Bulldogs’ William hit a three, but Stevens matched it.
The Blue Devils had found their groove at both ends of the floor – leading 57-42 with five minutes remaining.
Mississippi State didn’t back down and an 8-1 run got them closer.
Duke still struggled from the free throw line, hitting only half of them, and allowed its lead to get cut down to eight points.
With two minutes remaining, the Blue Devils relied on its rebounding and possession time to work the clock while holding a 58-50 lead.
Vivians fouled out with 90 seconds remaining.
However, even with the Bulldogs’ most effective scoring threat off the floor, Duke still didn’t make it look easy.
Greenwell missed two free throws while Mississippi State’s Martha Alwal made two, and made it a six-point game.
Seeing Duke struggle at the line, the Bulldogs used that to their advantage, fouling Williams, Stevens and Greenwell when possible.
Mississippi State coach Vic Shaefer didn’t agree with a subsequent foul call on Greenwell and was issued a technical foul.
It appeared that Greenwell had used her arm to push off defender Dillingham, but the foul was called against the Bulldogs defender.
The technical added to Greenwell’s shot attempts.
She sank 3-of-4 and Duke led 61-52 with under a minute to play.
The Bulldogs didn’t help themselves down the stretch, unable to score enough from the field or from the line.
Williams managed to score one of two, but was called for her third foul and that allowed William to score two more for Mississippi State.
With 7.4 seconds remaining, Greenwell went to the line and iced the game as Duke held a nine-point lead.
She scored her second shot and the Bulldogs hit one more jumper, and the victory was complete.
“This team has worked so hard,” McCallie said.
“They deserve everything in my opinion. So we’re very excited to be moving forward. We’ll take this day and evening to enjoy this because it’s very special, and then we’ll get ready for [the next game].”
Up next: Duke advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 to play the winner of Monday’s No. 1 Maryland/ No. 8 Princeton matchup on Saturday in Spokane, Wash.
Mississippi State ended its season with a 27-7 record.