By Peter Koutroumpis
DURHAM, N.C. – It only took Lexie Brown and the Duke Blue Devils 26 seconds to drop the first ball through the hoop against the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
The Duke Blue Devils were up 10-0 before the Seawolves scored their first basket and eventually racked up an 87-56 final score in their only exhibition match-up of the 2017-2018 season.
Brown’s game-high 27 points, along with 20 from Rebecca Greenwell, and 15 from Leaonna Odom led the Blue Devils who converted on 35-of-70 from the field and at 35 percent beyond the arc.
Hannah Wandersee’s 19 points and 11 from Shelby Cloninger powered the Seawolves offense which hit at a modest 33-percent clip inside and 25 percent from the outside.
Both teams made ample substitutions early and throughout the game, making for a dynamic flow of play between two preseason ranked teams in their respective NCAA divisions – Duke at No. 12 in Division I and Alaska Anchorage at No. 4 in Division II.
“I am very impressed with Anchorage Alaska as a hustling and hard-playing team that will do very well at the Division II level,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“I liked our attack – the first half I liked better than the second. I think we were put in a good situation to break the press and take advantage of that. I appreciated Lexie’s leadership as well as Becca and Nae – I thought all three of them stepped up and did some really nice things.”
Duke controlled play during the opening quarter and eventually established a 26-13 lead with 12 points each coming from Brown and Odom.
The Seawolves relied on quick perimeter passing and kept the Duke defense moving while putting up ample shots from midrange and beyond.
“We wanted to push the ball,” McCallie pointed out.
“They were trying to push the ball. At times I thought we were very aggressive and did some nice things defensively. At times I thought we were a little bit slow and tired and not stopping the ball, particularly in transitioning from our presses back into our quarter-court defense.”
The Blue Devils were strong on the boards early, and took advantage of their marked length difference in the paint, outrebounding the Seawolves 27-12, and pushed their margin up to 21 points, leading 49-28 by halftime.
“Our goal was to just contain them and see how many possessions we could be better than Duke,” UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy said.
“For our level, if we can be better than Duke on a couple of possessions, then that’s something to take away from, learn from and see what we did right.”
In the second half, Alaska Anchorage continued to play at a high pace at both ends of the floor, rushing Duke’s ball movement, but that didn’t keep the Blue Devils from extending their lead to 30 points (68-38) heading into the final period.
While Duke continued to force its shots and committed 22 turnovers overall, the Blue Devils made up for it on defense, equally forcing the Seawolves to commit 20 turnovers of their own.
The defensive highlight of the game was a swat-block that Brown put on Seawolves guard Kian McNair’s layup attempt early in the fourth.
It’s not that the five-foot-nine-inch guard didn’t already have four inches on her opponent, but the timing and jump through the air looked much like her father Dee did in his playing days.
With the ball landing five rows deep in the stands, the denial excited the crowd.
“I just felt like I had the advantage for once in my life, so I went for it and it worked out,” Brown said with a smile.
“But don’t expect to see that very often.”
Duke’s defense not only blocked eight shots overall, but also picked up 16 steals that led to 20 fast-break points.
Though a sizeable final differential had built up against them, Alaska Anchorage continued to compete and didn’t roll over.
Brown led a 12-2 scoring run that put the Blue Devils ahead 82-47 with 4:57 to play, but Wandersee and the Seawolves countered with a 9-5 stretch to end the game.
“They have great habits and great work ethic, they’re well coached and showed that tonight,” McCallie said.
“They were hard-nosed. They took the ball from our players, so that’s a very difficult thing to accept. We have to always be setting the tempo with our aggression and I don’t believe we did for 40 minutes. We did at times, but not throughout that game.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport