Devils Top A&M (Jimmy V), 61-58
Devils Top A&M (Jimmy V), 61-58
Player by Player
In a game that could have easily gone either way, Duke made just enough plays to nip #7 Texas A&M. Of all the games Duke has played so far, this is the one that will provide the most teaching and reference points later in the season. In this game, Duke learned how to adjust its game plan on the fly, how to come back against an elite opponent after looking overmatched early on, how to change momentum, how to lose momentum, how to get it back, how to execute during scramble situations and how to play under pressure. It's exactly the sort of lessons one wants one's team to learn during the month of December. If the road trip was finding out about Duke's extended rotation, then this game was about discovering who was ready to contribute in the toughest of circumstances, and who needed more seasoning.
Texas A&M was a bad matchup for Duke. This is the team that blew Duke out by 18 points last year in College Station (scoring 95 points), thanks in part to coach McCallie stubbornly continuing to press, and A&M shredding the press every time. This year, McCallie was much more selective with the press and used a big lineup when going zone (often using Allison Vernerey & Krystal Thomas together) to bother their 6-1 widebody Danielle Adams. A&M is athletic at every position, they have four players who can handle the ball, and everyone can shoot. The turnovers at the beginning of the game for Duke (8 in a five minute span) were the result of A&M disrupting every Duke attempt to jam the ball into the post. The passes Duke was attempting were ones that worked against lesser teams, and it goes to show that the Devils will need to work on their precision (both in passing and catching the ball) with regard to their post game. Once again, McCallie adjusted to the defense by using Karima Christmas to attack from the wing. If Danielle Adams is a matchup nightmare for most teams, so is Christmas, with her strength, speed and leaping ability. Perhaps the best sign for Duke was that slumping senior Jasmine Thomas shook off her shooting woes and made a number of huge plays in the second half.
The game was a tight battle in the early going, as the teams traded jumpers. Kathleen Scheer hit a three to put duke up early, but A&M guard Sydney Carter drained one of her own to make it 7-6. Chelsea Gray, deservedly making her first career start, was fouled after faking Carter out of her shoes and then used a subtle hesitation move to score on a drive. That made it 8-7 Duke with 17:19 left in the half, which would be Duke's last lead for a while. The Aggies ripped off a 10-0 run fueled by 5 Duke turnovers (4 of them A&M steals), many of which were balls fumbled away trying to drive against A&M's defense. The run ended when Chloe Wells managed to get in the lane and kick the ball back to Haley Peters for a little 5' jumper.
Wells then fouled Carter, which made it 19-10. This is when coach McCallie scrapped the offensive game plan and put the ball in Karima Christmas' hands. She tested the baseline and found she could get by her defender, scoring on a layup. Duke forced 7 missed shots in a row but couldn't get anything going on their end, as Jasmine couldn't get her patented stop-and-pop to drop and Chloe Wells put up a labored three that didn't come close to landing. Substitute guard Maryann Baker hit a three to give A&M their biggest lead at 22-12 with 9:04 left in the half.
The Aggies would not score again for the next eight minutes of game time. There were a number of factors that led to Duke's run. First, Duke changed their approach on offense. Instead of trying to shove it into the post to no avail, the Devils started attacking the basket from the wing and baseline. That stopped the hailstorm of turnovers, which in turn dried up A&M's transition buckets. Second, Duke changed its defensive approach. They mixed up their zones more effectively and were more selective in when and how they pressured the ball. Coach McCallie started double-teaming the post, which led to some bad shots for the Aggies. Third, A&M coach Gary Blair inserted a couple of deep reserves into the game when the lead reached 10 in an effort to rest his hard-charging starters. Duke took advantage of these lesser players as they made the run. Finally, even when Duke was turning the ball over and missing shots, they rebounded quite well, and this trend continued.
The run started with Karima Christmas probing A&M's defense on the left side and finding the defense wanting. She drove to the basket and was fouled, hitting 2 shots. After multiple misses off an inbounds pass by deep reserve Karla Gilbert, Scheer got fouled and hit 1. Gray blocked a shot from the 6-5 Gilbert and then Christmas came up with a steal & runout to cut the lead to 22-17. Krystal Thomas blocked Adams and came up with a board, by Karima missed the front end of a one-and-one. After a miss by Haley Peters, Selby came up with a steal/runout to cut it to 3. Adams was chucking shots at this point, now uncomfortable with the prospect of coming inside and getting her shot blocked. J.Thomas rebounded one of her misses and eventually attacked the left sside once again for a layup. Christmas went high for a rebound and Selby drove again, picking up Sydney Colson's second foul. This would have greater significance in the second half. Selby hit both shots, putting Duke up 23-22.
The Devils weren't done yet. After another chuck by Adams and another block by K.Thomas, J.Thomas eventually came off a screen and drained a three. K.Thomas finished up the run with a stickback of a missed Selby trey. That was the end of a remarkable 16-0 run (more of a march than a run, really). Duke had their chances to extend their lead into double digits, but twice turned the ball over on unforced errors. That second turnover, by Krystal Thomas, led directly to a steal and layup by Adams. A rushed shot by Peters with 30 seconds left in the half helped set up Aggie sub Maryann Baker for a trey that cut the lead to 28-27. A miss by Jasmine at the end of the half left the score there. While Duke had the upper hand in points in the paint (14-8), A&M held an 11-6 edge in points off turnovers. Christmas led the team with 7 points and 6 rebounds, while J.Thomas had 5 points, 7 rebounds and 5 turnovers.
The Second Half
Krystal Thomas was clearly displeased that Texas A&M had reduced her to being a non-factor on offense in the first half, and she set out to do something about it right away. On Duke's first possession, she went baseline and drove straight past Adams for a layup. She then stole the ball and tried to go all the way for a layup, but Adams bothered her just enough to make her miss the layup. Gray stepped up to take a charge from Colson (her third foul) and then drained a three on a pass from Jasmine. Duke got the ball back but Scheer got baited into an awkward shot inside that got blocked and led to a quick A&M basket. That was the beginning of an 11-0 A&M run over the next three minutes that saw Duke pile up 4 fouls (including give up 2 three point plays), 2 turnovers, 2 miss foul shots by Christmas, and 3 missed shots.
J.Thomas stopped the bleeding on a play where she drove to the right side, passed it to Scheer on the baseline, and then fired away from the corner when Scheer passed it back to her. The next four minutes saw some ugly basketball from Duke, who only managed to keep up thanks to 3 foul shots by J.Thomas and 2 by Christmas. After the Aggies went up 45-41 with 11:10 to go, the next two minutes were a struggle for A&M to either take control and go up by two possessions or else for Duke to show that the game would be close til the end. Colson had picked up her 4th foul a couple of minutes earlier, and their offense was starting to flail about as a result. Vernerey missed the front end of a one-and-one, Peters missed a jumper and Gray turned the ball over after coming up with a steal.
Shay Selby came up with a big rebound after a miss by Sydney Carter, but Duke still had trouble finding an open look. J.Thomas lost control of the ball with the shot clock running down but Gray pounced on the ball. She rifled it to a waiting Selby, who confidently sank a huge three with a second left on the shot clock. That shot invigorated a mostly tense and quiet crowd, and they lent the team a lot of energy during the last ten minutes of the game. Duke forced a turnover and got the ball to K.Thomas, who was fouled. She smoothly sank both free throws to put Duke back up at 46-45 with 8:48 left. That started off a tense possession-by-possession battle down the stretch, with 10 lead changes and a tie.
A&M's Adaora Elonu was fouled by K.Thomas after an offensive rebound and hit both. After a flurry of missed shots, blocks and offensive rebounds, Christmas put Duke ahead 48-47 with 6:23 left. Adams missed a short shot and K.Thomas snatched it away from her, and then scored on a layup after a pretty drive and dish by Christmas. Adams then uncorked a long bomb from beyond the top of the key that bounced once on the rim and then dropped in to tie the score at 50. J.Thomas rubbed off a screen to answer with a trey of her own. A&M held fast defensively and retook the lead at 54-53 with a post-up by Adams and 2 Elonu foul shots.
Chelsea "The Closer" Gray then took over for a bit, driving and getting fouled with 3:31. Her 2 free throws barely disturbed the nets. A&M's Tyra White hit a baseline jumper over the outstretched hand of Vernerey to make it 56-55 with 3:08 remaining. Gray then rebounded and stuck back a missed three by J.Thomas. Elonu then got free and hit a jumper to put A&M up 58-57. Christmas then missed 2 free throws with 1:47 left, giving A&M a chance to take control. Instead, Christmas redeemed herself by coming up with a steal. A&M locked in on Duke, not allowing any penetration at all. Jasmine Thomas desperately looked for a gap in the defense, took a risk with a ball fake that paid off, and then somehow sank a 15' leaner as the shot clock expired.
Texas A&M took a timeout, but they were totally disorganized on their next possession. They couldn't penetrate either, but Sydney Carter opted to put up a 25' jumper as the shot clock expired that didn't draw iron. Duke followed that brilliant defensive possession with a boneheaded decision when inbounding the ball. Krystal Thomas threw it in to Jasmine Thomas on the sideline instead of waiting for her to flash to the middle of the floor. Jasmine took the low pass and proceeded to bobble it out of bounds. Given new life, A&M worked the ball around until they found Adams on the baseline on an inbounds play for a fairly good look at the basket. She missed, and J.Thomas was fouled going after the rebound. She immediately went from goat to hero once again as she confidently hit both shots. Christmas then snuffed out A&M's last-ditch try with six seconds left by intercepting a pass and hanging on.
Duke survived shooting just 27% in the second half by turning the ball over just 6 times, but hitting 13-19 from the foul line, by outrebounding the Aggies, and by getting the most out of its three seniors. Christmas, dubbed a "beast" on the boards by Blair, had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Coach McCallie hinted afterward that Karima is capable of doing that whenever she wants, but isn't always focused enough to do so. Jasmine shot just 5-15 but was 3-6 from three and 5-6 from the foul line; she also had 9 rebounds. Adams was held to just 11 points on 5-18 shooting.
In the press conference, Blair spoke warmly about playing in Cameron, what this game means to women's college basketball and most especially his own players. He noted how Duke's size made their zone so effective against them and how McCallie learned not to press his team too much after last season. He expressed how he hopes the home-and-home series will continue and how great it is for both teams to have the courage to play a regional final-style game in Decmeber. Coach McCallie was happy with her team's defense, rebounding ability to make big plays under pressure. It was a difficult but rewarding way to end a stretch where Duke was on the road playing games and had no time to practice.
Devils Top A&M (Jimmy V), 61-58
Devils Top A&M (Jimmy V), 61-58
Player by Player