DURHAM, N.C. – The second-seeded Duke Blue Devils put together their most complete game in recent weeks in a dominating 87-45 win over the 15th-seeded Winthrop Eagles in opening-round play of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament played at historic Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
It was further evidence of who the Blue Devils (28-6) are and have now become due to injury problems, while showing what the future will hold for the ninth-ranked team in the country.
Senior guard Tricia Liston scored a team-high 20 points, and led the team’s offense while receiving support from freshmen Kendall McCravey-Cooper and Oderah Chidom who combined for 31 points and 14 rebounds to overwhelm the first-time tournament-participant Eagles.
Forward Haley Peters, as the other pillar of Duke’s senior leadership tandem with Liston, posted 11 points, six rebounds, and a game-high six assists, while junior forward Elizabeth Williams contributed an equally balanced 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
Ka’lia Johnson and Richa Jackson put in valuable minutes, 31 and 29 respectively, and posted impactful points and assists to keep the Duke offense moving forward throughout the game.
A 54-percent shooting performance from the field extended the Blue Devils’ record in NCAA tournament first-round games to an impressive 22-0 all-time, and included posting their 19th-straight postseason win in Cameron.
“I just want to say that it was such a great, intense, and fun game for our team,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said in her postgame remarks.
“Winthrop is just such a fiery team. They never quit. They play so hard, and I thought our team did a terrific job.”
Peters opened the game’s scoring with a jumper that was quickly followed up with a Williams putback that put Duke ahead 4-0 after two minutes of play.
The Eagles (24-9) posted their first-ever tournament points when Samiya Wright (12 points) dropped one of her four three- pointers in the game shortly after.
Though it took Liston a little time to get her offensive game going, she tallied back-to-back long-range bombs from beyond the arc to extend Duke’s lead to 14-5 at the 14:47 mark of the opening half.
As McCallie began to make substitutions, the Blue Devils’ defense got longer and longer with the insertion of Chidom, McCravey-Cooper, and Amber Henson.
It became an increasingly daunting task for three-time Big South Conference player of the year Dequesha McClanahan to lead Winthrop’s offense with a 22-point performance in the losing effort.
The Eagles worked hard to stay close as McClanahan brought Winthrop within nine points, trailing 23-12 with 9:35 to play.
However, as Duke’s triple-tower defense loomed in front of them, the Eagles’ 17 total turnovers throughout the game allowed the Blue Devils to post 26 points off of those opportunities, and helped the team’s freshmen to post career numbers at both ends of the floor.
With Duke leading 41-17 to start the second half, Winthrop still wouldn’t go away easily.
The Eagles kept pace with the Blue Devils during the opening minutes of play, and outscored Duke 7-4 with 17:34 remaining.
With the Blue Devils leading 45-24, McCallie called a quick timeout and refocused her team before they allowed the Eagles to soar much higher at that point.
Duke went on a quick 7-0 run, leading 52-24 with 16 minutes to play, after Liston launched another one of her three-point pointers.
The Blue Devils then put their offense into overdrive with effective defensive play – finishing the game with seven blocks and 13 steals while distributing the ball at the end of the floor to post a total of 21 team assists.
For Winthrop head coach Kevin Cook, the experience in playing Duke was a pivotal one for his Eagles.
He saw nothing but great things that would help his program continue along an upward trend for the future.
“Cinderella wanted a couple more dances, but unfortunately we have to go back to Rock Hill and begin anew for next year,” Cook said.
“We’re certainly moving forward—the foundation now has been laid. We have a good group of newcomers.”
For Duke, the dominating 42-point margin of victory was the largest posted with the revamped lineup that it has played with for the last month.
For players like Chidom, McCravey-Cooper, and Henson, the opportunity to step up and contribute will be the X-factors that the Blue Devils need to allow them to win and continue further along in the tournament.
“This year we’ve had a lot of adversity with the team,” Chidom said.
“Our coaches and our other teammates have been implying that some other players need to step up and that just gave me an opportunity to be more comfortable. My confidence has grown since I have been given that position to play more.”
McCallie was impressed with her seniors and freshmen alike.
As she saw her team play an effective defensive and transition game that included many impressive offensive plays in the paint – bounce passes and all – while finishing 40 percent from the perimeter, the Duke coach’s optimism for the next game was apparent.
“Tricia Liston was just great, very steady,” McCallie said.
“She always is. She’s always a great competitor and then Kendall and Oderah were just tremendous. They are now sophomores here before me. They have moved on and have played terrific basketball. They play well together, they play well with their teammates, and I just think that like Kendall has to run with it because that kind of performance is what motivates the team. We get very, very excited about our potential and what we can be, and hopefully this game provides a direction, and I like the direction we’re moving.”
Duke will face the seventh-seeded DePaul Blue Demons, 104-100 winners over the 10th-seeded Oklahoma Sooners, in second-round play on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Cameron.