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NCAA: Devils Dismiss Aztecs, 66-58
The Nutshell
 
NCAA: Devils Dismiss Aztecs, 66-58
Player by Player
NCAA: Devils Dismiss Aztecs, 66-58
By Rob Clough
March 27, 2010

  NUTSHELL     RECAP     PLAYERS  

Game Recap: Blue Devils Didn't Need 40 Perfect Minutes... This Time


At this point of the year, any win is a good win. That said, Duke's victory over San Diego State wasn't exactly 40 minutes of crisp execution. The Devils were sloppy with 23 turnovers and allowed SDS to shoot 50% from three in the first half. Duke was only +1 on the boards in the first half and gave up a 7 point lead late in the half, trading the lead 4 times down the stretch. After Duke had taken over the game in the second half, the Aztecs outscored Duke 21-10 in the game's last eight minutes, including 10-2 in the last two minutes. Duke had relaxed its defense a bit, but the team's overall carelessness and lack of focus was a concern. It didn't hurt Duke in this game, but there are far greater challenges ahead for the Devils. From here on out, it will take 40 minutes of pure focus to advance in the tournament.

That said, there were a number of significant positives that emerged from this game. First and foremost, the Devils defeated a red-hot opponent with a banged-up Karima Christmas not contributing much at all. Coming into the game with a foot injury, Karima struggled with 4 fouls and 3 turnovers. Duke will certainly need her to rest up and get better to compete against Baylor. Second, Duke's defense during the first twelve minutes of the second half was as dominant as I have ever seen it--especially against a good opponent. The Aztecs had 3 points and just 1 field goal during that time as Duke turned a 1-point lead to a 19-point bulge. Third, Duke turned that slight rebounding advantage into a +14 edge by the end of the game. The Devils' team speed was simply too much for a team that had run circles around their first two opponents. Lastly, Jasmine Thomas carried Duke in the first half with her deadeye shooting and turned into a ballhawk in the second half. In the end, the final margin didn't matter much, just the fact that Duke is in the Elite Eight for the first time in four years.

The game started with 6 straight points from J.Thomas in the form of a pull-up jumper, 2 foul shots and a jumper off a nice inbound pass and screen. SDS's star center Paris Johnson and superstar guard Jene' Morris countered with consecutive baskets as Duke went into one of their periodic offensive lulls. Duke missed 4 shots in a row and turned the ball over twice, but the Aztecs could only muster a single basket. Thomas took control again as she stole the ball and scored off a runout. (She'd score the first 10 Blue Devil points.) After a free throw by Johnson, Duke had some trouble finishing inside against SDS's size, and the Aztecs took advantage with another three by Morris. With 13:05 left, the Devils trailed 11-8.

J.Thomas scored on a runner and Cheek scored on an up-and-under after she came up with a steal. Christmas came up with a rebound that triggered a Thomas-to-Bridgette Mitchell fast break. After a post score from SDS, Mitchell hit Cheek for a 19' jumper from the top of the key. A trey from reserve Allison Duffy tied teh game up at 16 with 9:26 left. Duke got a bit of a lead when Krystal Thomas scored on a right-handed hook and Keturah Jackson sank a three after being set up by Cheek. The Devils turned the ball over a couple of times, allowing the Aztecs' second-leading scorer, Quenese Davis, to hit a three. After another turnover and a miss from J.Thomas, Coco Davis sank a three to gave the Aztecs a 22-21 lead with 6:20 left. The Devils were doing a poor job in help-and-recover, giving San Diego State's shooters plenty of time to set up.

K.Thomas was fouled but missed both shots, giving SDS a chance to add to their lead. Instead, J.Thomas came up with another steal and passed ahead to Mitchell, who finished with a spectacular spin move. Another steal by J.Thomas, this time in the backcourt as Duke's 1-2-2 press was in effect, led to a three point play by Jackson. A steal from Mitchell set J.Thomas up for a three, suddenly making it 29-22 (Duke's biggest lead of the game to this point). Duke couldn't handle that bit of prosperity, giving up 6 straight points thanks to 3 misses and a turnover. SDS got closer to the basket, getting a post basket from Johnson and 2 free throws from Bradley. Even Morris pulled up for a short jumper.

J.Thomas answered for Duke, draining a near-three to make it 31-28. Q.Davis hit a jumper and Morris converted a turnover from Jasmine into 2 free throws to give SDS another lead. Jasmine sank a 15' jumper to give Duke back the lead, but Q.Davis got to the line and made it 34-33. J.Thomas cleverly saw that SDS was slow getting back into their defense after that foul shot and ziped up the floor to find K.Thomas in transition. That basket held up as Duke took a 35-34 lead into the locker room. Two stats stood out: Duke's very slight leads in points off turnovers (14-12) and second-chance points (4-3). The Aztecs' ability to score inside and get to the foul line would also really open things up on the perimeter if Duke didn't clamp down immediately. The reality is that without Jasmine's red-hot first half, Duke would have been in serious trouble. She had 17 points on 7-11 shooting and also came up with 3 steals that led to scores.

Duke's sloppiness and San Diego State's scrappiness in the first 20 minutes made the first twelve minutes of the second half wholly unexpected. The Devils forced 7 turnovers and held SDS to 1-13 shooting during that period as they turned a 35-34 lead into a 56-37 rout. The biggest positive for Duke is that Jasmine got plenty of help from her teammates during the run. Mitchell started the run with a stickback of a miss from J.Thomas. Jackson came up with her second steal of the half, which led to 2 foul shots from Jasmine. K.Thomas came up with a block and deflected it such that J.Thomas was able to pilfer the ball and drained a 17' jumper. K.Thomas set up in the block and was fouled, hitting 1. Duke had a few cracks at the basket after that but couldn't convert for a couple of minutes until KJ pushed a rebound up to Cheek for a transition score. Just like that, Duke was up 44-34.

The Devils went cold for another three minutes, but all the offense SDS could muster was a highly-contested turnaround jumper from Q.Davis. Duke's offense got back on track as J.Thomas found Vernerey inside on an inbounds play and later Cheek on a turnaround jumper. The Devils then pounded the Aztecs on the foul line, with Jasmine getting 2 intentional foul shots after Q.Davis grabbed her jersey after she was starting to rocket blast herself down the floor after a rebound. That marked 4 straight free throws for her, and K.Thomas followed that up with 2 of her own. Mitchell came up with another steal, and K.Thomas dished to Cheek for another score inside. With 8:18 left in the game, it was now 56-37.

From there, Duke slowed things down and ran some clock. Duke also turned the ball over a few times, allowing SDS to crawl within 56-42. Time was against them, and a Cheek basket on an inbounds feed from KJ with 4:48 left made it 58-42. Johnson scored on a three point play, but Mitchell flooded the lane and got another steal, and J.Thomas was off to the races once again. After a SDS steal, Cheek was fouled and hit both, and J.Thomas got another steal & runout to cap off her scoring and give Duke a 64-48 lead with 2:07 left.

Coach McCallie started to sub in a bit, giving Jasmine some much-needed rest. Duke did not handle the last two minutes of the game very well, giving up 10 points and scoring just 2 points off free throws as the Devils missed 4 of 6. Duke also turned the ball over twice when the Aztecs started pressing. Until those late-game breakdowns, Duke had dominated the half. They still wound up with a dominant 16-6 edge in points in the paint, which forced SDS to become a jumper-only team. The Devils had an 18-10 advantage in points off turnovers, which had been even greater until the last two minutes. Most crucially, Duke had a 12-2 bulge in second-chance points, a real point of emphasis for the Devils all season and one that proved key to their win here.

All season long, it's been obvious that Duke is a team with limitations. What's been remarkable about this team has been the way that they've been able to bend the tempo of games to their liking and play to their strengths. It's not a team that has an army of shooters or a lot of low-post scoring options on a consistent basis. Duke thrives when things get a little ugly and a little physical, and they've made that work for them. The result has been a team that has fully lived up to its potential in terms of achievement, and is on the precipice of exceeding that potential. The players, the staff and the coaches should all be greatly commended for getting to this point.



NCAA: Devils Dismiss Aztecs, 66-58
The Nutshell
 
NCAA: Devils Dismiss Aztecs, 66-58
Player by Player

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