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Duke Escapes USC (Again), 78-72
Team Box
Duke Escapes USC (Again), 78-72
Player by Player
Duke Escapes USC (Again), 78-72
By Rob Clough
December 6, 2009


Game Recap

On paper, Southern California didn't seem to match up well with Duke at all. The Women of Troy were being outscored by 2 points a game, outrebounded by 3 and shooting worse than their opponents as well. Leading scorer Ashley Corral was hitting only 31% from three, while backup guard Heather Oliver was just 6-18. USC was coming off an unimpressive road win against Long Beach State (a team that lost to Miami by double digits). Of course, games aren't played on paper. Coach Michael Cooper wanted to toughen up his team with a brutal non-conference schedule, and that's led to some early losses. USC went to Xavier, Gonzaga and Long Beach State, and also played three tough teams at the Paradise Jam. He raised some eyebrows by pulling off upsets against ranked Texas and Mississippi State, so they certainly had no fear of a Duke team they nearly knocked off a season ago.

Indeed, the first half of this game seemed a virtual replay of last year's shooting display from USC and the lethargic nature of Duke's defense. Corral sank 5 treys in the game's first twelve minutes,; and when she wasn't bombing away, she was finding teammates for open shots. In the early going, Duke looked like they were going to pick up where they left off against Ohio State, as they shredded a zone with a Jasmine Thomas drive and dish to Krystal Thomas along with a Joy Cheek drive and finish off the glass. Defensively, the Women of Troy couldn't penetrate Duke's defense. After that basket, USC flew down the court and Corral found Brian Gilbreath for a short jumper. After J.Thomas missed a three, Corral rubbed off a screen and drained the first of her school-record 7 treys.

USC did a great job of running their offense in the next couple of minutes, and Duke started to tense up. The Devils tried a press, but it was half-hearted at best, as USC was able to shred it and get great shots. To add insult to injury, USC even converted a miss into a basket. Duke tried four pull-up jump shots against the zone early on, none of which dropped. The Devils finally halted a 14-1 run when Jasmine turned the corner and scored off the dribble. After forcing a Corral turnover, Allison Vernerey was able to hit a left-handed hook. USC did a great job of bottling up Duke's post scoring for much of the game. 6-5 Kari Laplante was big enough to bother Duke's posts and Cooper noted that he double-teamed Krystal Thomas in an effort to force Duke to shoot jumpers.

Vernerey then missed a wide-open shot, which shook her confidence for a few possessions as she missed another shot and turned the ball over under pressure. USC kept pouring it on with a 7-0 run to make it 21-9, but Vernerey kept attacking and got the basket and the foul. USC went inside out with a three to Gilbreath and Corral dropped in another three to make it 27-13 with 8:43 to go. The entire frontcourt was struggling, as Mitchell had two of her shots blocked (including a three that was blocked by Gilbreath, who was then fouled by Mitchell), Thomas was completely ineffectual at both ends, and Cheek couldn't get any shots to drop.

At this point, McCallie was desperate to get any kind of spark off the bench. She went deep into the bench just to stabilize things, even inserting Chelsea Hopkins & Kathleen Scheer. Hopkins was able to spell Jasmine, getting her a few key minutes of rest. Scheer acted as a decoy for a few minutes late in the first half, forcing USC to send players to guard her and opening up the lane for Jasmine. The biggest spark off the bench, however, was Karima Christmas. She generated a steal at the ten minute mark that Mitchell unfortunately turned into a bad shot, but came back when the deficit reached 14 and sliced through USC's defense for the hoop and the harm. USC's Aarika Hughes missed 2 foul shots and Duke made them pay as J.Thomas drove in for a score. Vernerey started sweeping the backboards as shots weren't dropping for the Women of Troy, and Hopkins found J.Thomas on a fast break. Vernerey was fouled after a Corral turnover and hit a foul shot, as Duke cut the lead to 27-21.

USC hit a couple of foul shots, and Keturah Jackson blew a wide-open shot off a perfectly-designed inbounds play. USC built the lead back up to 10, but Shay Selby delivered a pass to Jasmine in the corner for a three. Selby then picked Corral and passed to Mitchell, who immediately turned the ball back over. Duke started taking jumpers again and missing, while USC was getting scores inside and drive-and-dishes for open jumpers. With 4:15 left in the half, USC built their lead back up to 37-24. Jasmine rolled off a screen and hit an elbow jumper, but Hopkins fouled an SC player and they pushed the lead up to 39-26. With Scheer in the game, Thomas attacked the basket and hit 4 straight foul shots after she twice swiped the ball.

USC, after turning the ball over just twice in the first ten minutes, coughed it up 8 times in the last ten minutes of the half. Jackson came up with a great steal, blew an open layup, and then the error was compounded by Selby, who fouled to give USC its only points of the last three minutes. Cheek got back in the game when Scheer found her in the post for a drop-step and score. Duke had more chances to draw closer in the half, but had to settle for a 41-33 deficit. Duke had a 16-6 edge in the paint and 11-4 advantage in points off turnovers, but USC countered with a 12-2 edge in fast break points. They also held a 21-17 edge on the boards. USC shot an amazing 6-10 from three and got to the foul line 14 times.

Duke opened the second half with a steal & layup by Mitchell, but the Women of Troy scored 5 in a row as they continued to move the ball around crisply. Mitchell posted up and finally got a shot in over Gilbreath, and Krystal started to hit the boards harder. After Jackson confidently scored on a drive, Cheek stole the ball and then turned it back over, and USC made Duke pay. Duke started to hit the offensive boards hard, with Mitchell finally scoring after four cracks at the basket. That conversion really fired up the team as it was clear that the team was now on a mission.

USC was also quite resolute as Corral splashed in yet another three to make it 51-41 with 15:28 left. Christmas drove, jumped, twisted in the air and sank one of those off-balance short jumpers of hers. Both teams missed multiple shots and free throws, but Christmas finally picked Corral and drove in for a layup. USC couldn't get any shots to drop as Duke furiously tried to rally. Vernerey had the ball in the post and dished to Cheek for a 15' baseline jumper. Gilbreath hit a jumper on a Corral pass, but Duke was about to embark on another run.

Duke ran the same inbounds play underneath the basket that was missed earlier, but this time Mitchell finished the pass from J.Thomas. Selby dug out a steal and Jasmine was fouled going to the basket, sinking both. K.Thomas came up with a steal after the ball was poked out, and then dished to J.Thomas for a three that put Duke on top, 54-53, with 9:21 to go. That shot seemed to shock USC back into sharpness, as reserve Heather Oliver drained a three. Cheek was fouled and hit both, but Oliver improbably hit another three. USC pushed their lead up to 5 with 8)05 left, but Duke turned up the pressure. Jasmine passed to KJ, who turned the corner off the dribble and scored.

After a Gilbreath miss, Jasmine drove to the right, twisted in the air and banked in a tough shot. Corral missed two straight shots on drives and Duke took advantage with a Christmas drive and shot with 2 players draped all over her and a KJ drive. Suddenly, Duke was up 64-61, and Vernerey added to it by scoring in the post. USC stopped the bleeding with a Hughes jumper with a hand in her face, but the now-confident Vernerey hit a hook to make it 68-63 with 4:10 left.

Just when it looked like Duke was in control, Oliver hit another three. Vernerey turned the ball over and USC had a chance to tie, and then all hell broke loose. It initally appeared that Jackson committed a shooting foul, but the officials were apparently unclear in relaying that Oliver was whistled for a moving screen before that call. Cooper went nuclear and was whistled for a technical foul, and J.Thomas took advantage by sinking both. On the ensuing possession, Jasmine drove by the defense to put Duke up by 6. Oliver hit another three to make it 72-69 with 2:50 left. After Jasmine missed a killshot three, Corral missed inside and Vernerey got a key rebound. Duke worked the clock down as Karima drove the lane, drew the defense in and dished to Cheek for a huge baseline jumper. After multiple misses by both teams (including Karima throwing away the ball and missing the front end of a one-and-one), Corral fired away, missed, got the ball back and this time sank a three with 19 seconds left. Jasmine got the ball and was immediately fouled, hitting both freebies. Corral missed one last three that Karima rebounded, and she hit both free throws to end the game.

Duke absolutely dominated the paint in the second half, outscoring USC 26-2. The Devils forced 20 turnovers in the final 30 minutes of the game, and converted them at a 19-2 margin in the second half alone. Duke choked off USC's fast break, reducing them to shooting jump shots. The Women of Troy only managed to stay in the game because they were so accurate from long range (12-22 for the game, including 6-12 in the second half), getting great shooting from players who had only been mediocre prior to playing Duke. This speaks to how playing Duke can fire up a team and get them to focus for forty minutes--in much the same way Duke did against Ohio State. USC wasn't afraid of Duke, knew their weaknesses well (overpursuit on defense without closing out sharply, shooting off the dribble) and exploited their own strengths to the max. When they get former #1 high school player Jacki Gemelos next month (apparently finally healthy after a star-crossed career), they will be an interesting team indeed. For Duke, they regained their composure after an emotional win a couple of days again while dealing with exam-time stress.

Duke Escapes USC (Again), 78-72
Team Box
Duke Escapes USC (Again), 78-72
Player by Player

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