2016 ACC WBB Tournament: Tandem of Stevens and Chidom reunited as Duke advances past Virginia

2016 ACC Second Round: #8 Duke 57, #9 Virginia 53
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – It was the next one up mentality that the eighth-seeded Duke Blue Devils needed to advance to the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.

While guard Rebecca Greenwell was out, forward Azura Stevens was in and her 14 points and 15 rebounds helped Duke (20-11) hold off the ninth-seeded Virginia Cavaliers for a 57-53 win at Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday.

Oderah Chidom’s 20 points led the Blue Devils for the game, but having Stevens back was a significant factor in defending against a Virginia offense that relied on its perimeter shooting to earn the lead early and regain it later.

“For Azura to come back and post that double-double without ever practicing and missing seven games shows the kind of person she is, the character she has, the All-American she is, and it’s just tremendous,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said following the win.

McCallie continued on to point out Chidom’s unheralded work to lead the Blue Devils through what has been particularly challenging circumstances throughout the season.

“I’ll tell you, Oderah has been pushing herself up there in terms of being recognized. She was not recognized All-Conference in any way, and she has been absolutely pouring it on, not filling in but adding on when Azura couldn’t play, and then when Azura did play, continuing to do what she can do. So I’m very proud of Oderah and Azura and the team.”

Virginia’s perimeter shooting put Duke behind early as the Cavaliers hit 3-of-4 from beyond the arc during the first five minutes of play.

With Duke down 17-8, McCallie called a timeout and got the response she was looking for.

The Blue Devils responded with a quick 5-0 run to end the first quarter trailing by four.

Duke continued to chip away at the Cavaliers’ lead as both teams battled back-and-forth for the lead.

The Blue Devils trailed 22-19 with five minutes to play in the half.

Just under two minutes later Stevens’ layup on an Angela Salvadores dish gave Duke the lead back for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.

Five more straight points from Chidom extended the Duke advantage.

However, the Blue Devils offense stalled near halftime and Virginia cut its deficit to one, 30-29, heading into the break.

“We all feel like we can play a lot better – you don’t need to ask that question,” McCallie said.

“Yes, we can play a lot better, but we had to make some adjustments, and this was a game of heart, hustle and the intangibles, so I’m really proud of this team.”

Duke pushed its advantage to 40-35 midway through the third and took advantage of a Cavaliers offensive lapse.

“I think in that third quarter we kind of went through a shooting slump, too,” Virginia head coach Joanne Boyle said.

“I think we kind of just went cold.”

The Blue Devils led 43-38 heading into the final quarter and hung on tightly for the final 10 minutes.

Virginia challenged heavily and even regained the lead, sitting on top at 50-49 with 3:30 to play.

However, Chidom then tied it with a free throw.

A three put the Cavaliers ahead before Salvadores hit two free throws to pull Duke back within one, down 53-52.

Misses from the free throw line and in the lane by Virginia were critical to the Blue Devils’ eventual success as Kyra Lambert and Salvadores added free throws to put the Blue Devils ahead 54-53 with 42 seconds remaining.

Two more free throws from Chidom iced the game and turned the team’s focus toward a quarterfinal matchup against two-time defending tournament champion and top seed Notre Dame.

“Obviously it’s tough,” Stevens said.

“We’ve been through a lot of things, but we’ve gotta move on and focus on what’s ahead. We can’t spend time on things that have already happened. We just encourage each other the best way we can and move on.”

“The main thing we focus on is defense and rebounding,” Stevens concluded.

“That’s something that can’t change every game and that’s something that we control. Offense, we can’t control that. Obviously, Becca’s out, that’s a knock on our offense. But defense, we can control defense with her out, so that’s something we’ve been focusing on and we’ll continue to focus on that throughout the tournament.”