DURHAM, N.C. – They took control early, but the 12th-ranked Duke Blue Devils had some trouble in caging the Western Carolina Catamounts at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday.
Most of the challenge the Blue Devils faced in beating the Catamounts 84-47 was attributed more to their own enthusiasm to make one too many passes, particularly when all 11 players scored.
Azura Stevens posted her seventh double-double of the season (21 points, 10 rebounds) while Oderah Chidom (13 points, six rebounds) and Rebecca Greenwell (13 points, four rebounds) followed with double-digit performances of their own.
Ace Easter (13 points, five rebounds) and Raziyah Farrington (nine points, four rebounds), a Chapel Hill native, led Western Carolina.
Following a 71-61 road loss at then eighth-ranked Kentucky on Dec. 20, Duke (10-3) needed to show more focus as it completed its second-last game before beginning its Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schedule.
The Blue Devils did just that, notching their 150th consecutive win at home against an unranked opponent.
They Hit 58.5 percent from the field, which was their second-highest of the season, outrebounded the Catamounts by a 49-30 margin, and held them to 10 points in each of the third and fourth periods.
“I attribute it completely to our defense,” Chidom said.
“At halftime, Coach P made a point that we needed to pick up our defense and offense would come. So defense was primarily our focus in the second half.”
After Chidom opened the game’s scoring with a three-point play, Farrington scored the Catamounts’ first points that cut Duke’s early lead to 5-2.
Greenwell extended the Blue Devils lead to 14-5 at the five-minute mark of the opening quarter.
Starting guard Kyra Lambert (4 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds) claimed an offensive rebound and dished it off to Stevens an easy touch off the glass.
The play helped push Duke’s lead to 25-11 by the end of the opening 10 minutes.
Along with Lambert, guard Angela Salvadores (4 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds) controlled the point for Duke while continuing to extend the lead.
At times, playing with a new four-guard set that featured Stevens inside, the sophomore forward showed her versatility in dishing the ball out as she added three assists on the night as well.
“I really like the new lineups we have, especially the four-guard lineup,” she said.
“I think it’s really a good opportunity for the guards to get out there and speed things up and especially useful when we go to our presses. So it’s really cool to see that change.”
As the second quarter progressed, Farrington helped fuel a Catamounts scoring spurt.
Foul trouble slowed Duke’s progress while Western Carolina worked to put points on the board.
Struggling to make finishing passes, the occasional pitch, like one from Haley Gorecki (9 points, 5 rebounds) to Chidom kept Duke ahead 35-20 with five minutes to play in the half.
Both teams went scoreless for the next few minutes, trading missed passes and shot attempts.
Western Carolina didn’t go away and scored seven points as a result of unforced turnovers by the Blue Devils.
Duke led 40-27 at halftime as Salvadores drove the baseline to score before the horn sounded, capping off a season-high 59 percent shooting percentage from the field during the opening 20 minutes of play.
Western Carolina continued to push the Blue Devils to work harder during the early part of the third quarter.
After taking a timeout during the midpoint of the period, the Blue Devils’ offense started to connect again.
Their pace looked more controlled and the results showed.
“I think the players locked in better,” McCallie said.
“We’re not going to get that slippage because you could see slippage. To try and stop it right in that moment. I thought the players did a pretty good job of refocusing.”
Duke extended its lead to 51-32 with 2:52 remaining in the period.
Even while playing more effective shot-blocking defense in the paint, the Catamounts connected on successive jumpers.
Faith Suggs (8 points, 3 rebounds) added an impressive drop-step and layup that brought the crowd of 4,023 to its feet.
That was soon followed up with an inbounds play that finished with Greenwell driving the lane to score as Duke led 62-37 at the end of the third period.
A 10-0 run eventually pushed the Blue Devils further ahead, leading 80-45 with three minutes to play.
The Catamounts were unable to score for much of the remainder of the game as Duke’s size was too much to overcome.
“I think we got after it in the second half, and that was good,” McCallie said.