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NCAA: Bears Dash Devil Dreams, 51-48
The Nutshell
NCAA: Bears Dash Devil Dreams, 51-48
Player by Player
NCAA: Bears Dash Devil Dreams, 51-48
By Rob Clough
March 29, 2010


Game Recap: Three Minutes of Confusion Ends Fine Season

The most distressing part of Duke's season-ending loss to Baylor is that the Devils played 37 minutes of tough, smart basketball and three minutes of brain-dead hooping. Some key coaching mistakes a bit earlier than that aided Baylor in their comeback from what seemed to be an impregnable Duke lead and gave the young Bears a bit of confidence. In the end, Duke took too many quick shots and relied too much on defensive gambling to win the game. Duke lost despite a 14-4 edge in second-chance points, in part because that defensive gambling and quick shooting led Baylor to a 16-8 advantage in points off turnovers (and 12-2 on fast breaks). All Duke had to do was hang on to the ball just a bit more and a win was within their grasp. Instead, the scrappy Lady Bears, led by imposing 6-8 frosh center Brittney Griner, got key baskets down the stretch, hit free throws and defended Duke well from three.

Early on, Duke did not adjust well to Griner's offensive presence. She scored Baylor's first two baskets and later had an assist and 2 more points, all before the ten minute mark. Duke wasn't content to understand what was clear on tape--they had to find out for themselves that Griner was going to erase weak reverse layups and pull-up jumpers anywhere near her wingspan. Six minutes into the game, Baylor led 7-1. The bench tandem of Karima Christmas and Allison Vernerey gave Duke a quick lift, as Christmas went around and muscled through Griner for a score and Vernerey surprised the Bears with a drive to the basket. Baylor held Duke at arm's length until midway through the half, with only a Mitchell jumper allowing Duke to scratch over a four minute period.

Mitchell, K.Thomas, Cheek and J.Thomas all struggled from the field in the half, with Jasmine rushing and forcing her shot throughout the game. She finally scratched with a trey with 9:30 left, and Cheek got on the board with a stickback a minute later. Duke kept up the pressure off the dribble and on the o-boards as Jasmine sank a tough runner and Mitchell got a stickback to give Duke the lead at 16-15. Duke had switched from man-to-man to zone, and Baylor's offense looked stagnant. Griner got few touches and only scored twice in the half's final ten minutes.

A big key for Duke was their ability to get to the foul line. The Devils took a 20-17 lead after 4 consecutive foul shots from J.Thomas & Cheek, but a Griner score and a fastbreak basket after a J.Thomas miss gave Baylor a 21-20 lead. Christmas then went to work, scoring 6 straight points to close out the half. That included 4 foul shots and a spectacular reverse on a baseline drive. Duke was +5 on the boards at the half and led 26-21 despite shooting just 24% from the field (including 1-8 from three). Griner had 10 of Baylor's 21 points, while Christmas and J.Thomas had 8 apiece for Duke.

Duke kept it going early in the second half, as J.Thomas slipped behind a screen to nail a 17' jumper, K.Thomas scored against Griner's backup, and Jasmine went off the dribble to score on a drive. Baylor finally hit a jumper, but K.Thomas found Jackson for a three. That made it 35-25 with 13:47 left, and it looked liked Duke had a chance to really push their advantage. Instead, sloppy play led to easy scores and wide-open shots for Baylor, with Griner capping off an 8-0. Christmas righted the ship with 2 free throws with 9:44, but what followed was Coach McCallie's biggest mistake of the game.

Baylor had been struggling for most of the half against Duke's zone, hitting a couple of threes only when they came up with steals as Duke's defense wasn't quite set up. Following Duke free throws, she twice elected to throw on a press against Baylor's speedy freshmen, and Baylor was twice able to break it with ease. During a period where Duke should have reclaimed a 6-8 point lead, Baylor stayed within 39-37. With under seven minutes left, Duke had one last offensive flurry. Mitchell sank a 17' jumper and then hit Cheek for a three from the top of the key. Duke got the ball back and couldn't convert, giving up a foul shot, but K.Thomas scored on a Jackson feed to make it 46-38 with five minutes to go.

Those last five minutes may have been Duke's worst of the entire season, considering both offense and defense. Duke put Baylor at the foul line to make it 46-40 and K.Thomas missed the front end of a one-and-one. Duke tried to apply pressure, but Baylor once again ripped through Duke's half-hearted press to score easily. Jas attacked the basket and was fouled, hitting both to make it 48-42 with 3:38 left. That was still a two-possession game; good defense and even a conservative offensive approach would have likely sealed a win.

Instead, after Griner hit 1 free throw, Jasmine took an off-balance shot just a second after Duke had gotten a rebound. Jasmine then attempted another questionable shot with 15 seconds on the shot clock. Duke's defense kept holding, but this time it was Jackson who took a shot with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. Krystal Thomas fouled out as Baylor pulled within 48-45. Coach McCallie opted to go small on defense, which was another iffy move given that Vernerey actually provided some toughness and rebounding at that end. Certainly, she was not at all effective on offense, but I was surprised to not to see some attempt at offense-for-defense substitution.

That became especially noticeable when Cheek, who didn't seem to know that she could run the baseline, threw the ball right to Baylor's Kimetria Hayden, who dished to Melissa Jones to make it 48-47 with 2:10 left. Duke didn't run anyone long, nor did Cheek have the presence of mind to call a time-out when she saw the pressure Baylor was applying. Thomas threw up yet another miss, this time with 11 seconds left on the shot clock, but she deflected a pass that Cheek came up with. The Devils finally slowed it down and got a great-looking shot for Cheek in the right corner that she simply didn't hit. Baylor moved the ball nicely and Griner predictably exploited the mismatch against Cheek to score with an easy layup. Jasmine panicked, ran into the lane and threw up a prayer of a runner instead of looking to her open teammates.

Duke had to foul and Jones hit 2 shots. Duke's last 2 possessions were well-defended, as Cheek missed a contested three. Jackson forced a tie-up on a heady defensive play, but Cheek missed another three to end the game and the careers of the three seniors. Duke's abysmal offensive execution was the key to the loss, giving up 14 points off turnovers in the second half alone. Duke's transition defense was sluggish, but it wouldn't have mattered if Duke had simply valued the ball and worked the shot clock. I'm not sure why Coach McCallie wanted to speed up the game's tempo when the grinding halfcourt affair had favored Duke for most of the second half. I'm also not sure why she didn't re-emphasize shot selection down the stretch, imploring the team to slow down and make Baylor work on defense. Duke jacking up shots made Baylor do very little work on defense, allowing them to be fresh on the offensive end at the very end. Duke usually wears down its opponents with physical play, but the Devils got away from that model for reasons that aren't entirely clear.

Of course, Duke had a fine season given the team's limitations. Winning their first ACC regular season & tournament titles in several years was impressive, as was making it to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2006. There's no denying that Duke's defense was absolutely dominant, with a level of intensity that I had never seen in the history of the program. At the same time, the offense relied too much on Jasmine Thomas for scoring and did little to maximize the offensive games of the other players. It took most of the season for Jasmine to finally receive high screens to let her shoot, but the team seemed to call few plays for athletic marvel Christmas. The bottom line was that while Duke played like a marvelous unit on defense, they frequently felt like five individuals on offense (and at times, like five strangers). The question that remains is: how much of this offensive struggle was due to players with limited offensive explosiveness, and how much of it was due to a staff that couldn't find ways to get easier baskets for its players in crunch time? We'll find out that answer when the tidal wave of high school talent rolls into Durham over the next two seasons.

NCAA: Bears Dash Devil Dreams, 51-48
The Nutshell
NCAA: Bears Dash Devil Dreams, 51-48
Player by Player

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