Duke does just enough to move on to Sweet 16
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Lindsey Harding and Wanisha Smith combined for 11 turnovers, and fellow guard Abby Waner took only one 3-pointer and played just 20 minutes because of foul trouble. Alison Bales had a season-low four points, and Duke's total of 62 was its second-lowest this season. The Blue Devils had 13 assists to 17 turnovers.
You read all that and might think the overall No. 1 seed got bounced from the NCAA Tournament, right?
Nah, the Blue Devils are moving on to the Sweet 16 in Greensboro after 62-52 victory over No. 8 Temple. Especially compared to the kind of melodic hoops Duke often plays for coach Gail Goestenkors, this one was kind of gross. It doesn't really matter, though.
After all, later in the evening, defending national champion Maryland was eliminated by Ole Miss. The No. 2 seed in the Blue Devils' region, Vanderbilt, was upset by Bowling Green. And Duke's archrival, fellow No. 1 seed North Carolina, was pushed hard by Notre Dame.
Put in that context, Duke's 10-point victory doesn't look that bad at all.
"We just need to win every game. If it's ugly, it's ugly," Bales said. "We're going to practice this week and work on things that Coach G didn't feel we did a very good job on. But we'll take the win however it comes."
Duke, of course, doesn't have to hop on a flight home to get ready for the regional. The Blue Devils make the quick drive home Tuesday night, practice in Cameron Indoor Stadium for a couple of days and then head to Greensboro. Jet lag will not be an issue for the Blue Devils this tournament.
Duke didn't show its best face Tuesday, not a by a long shot, but it did show a resilience to get done what needed to be done. Let's look at what went right for the Blue Devils, starting with sophomore post player Carrem Gay, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds. She made 5-of-7 shots from the field.
"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive any way I could -- offense, defense, rebounding," Gay said. "Temple is hard to play. They were attacking, penetrating, getting to the middle. That pull-up jumper was really working for them today."
Gay, whose teammates call her "Remy," established from the start that she meant business, hitting two free throws and then ripping a rebound away from Temple and scoring inside after a Waner miss. Next came an acrobatic layup by Harding, on which she was fouled. She converted the three-point play and then hit a jumper in the lane, putting Duke up 9-2.
It wasn't going to be nearly that easy, though.
"We had to fight for everything," Goestenkors said. "Their physical play was something we hadn't seen in a while. I think player-for-player, they are the most physical team we have faced."
And that didn't work so well for Bales. The Devils air-mailed a pass over her head early in the game, which is not easy to do to a 6-foot-7 player. Unfortunately for Duke, that set a tone for Bales' offense all night. It never materialized.
"Offensively, I had some trouble tonight," said Bales, who did tally six rebounds and two blocks. "My teammates stepped up. Wanisha and Lindsey did a great job, and Joy (Cheek) and Remy."
Goestenkors has been on Bales about being more aggressive offensively pretty much ever since she stepped foot on campus.
"She has been having good practices," Goestenkors said. "Their physical play was a factor for her tonight. She will grow from this and adjust, because she is a smart player."
Bales did still provide defense inside. And Gay was able to provide defense, too, plus enough offense for Duke in the post.
"Her best game was when we played Maryland near the end of the (regular) season," Goestenkors said of Gay. "She dislocated her shoulder in that game, and she had been tentative after that.
"So we've been working with her getting her confidence back, getting her to be more physical. She's had a couple of good games. This week, she and I had a long talk about how she really needed to take some pressure off of Ali. And to do that, she needed to be aggressive and consistent. Tonight, she was extremely aggressive. At the beginning of the game, I felt like she was at a different level than the rest of our team, getting loose balls and rebounds. I was really proud of her tonight."
At the 9:21 mark of the second half, Temple cut Duke's lead to five, and the tension was palpable from the Duke faithful. Then Gay hit a jump shot to give Duke a little breathing room.
Then another one of Duke's young players, redshirt freshman Brittany Mitch, made one of those "little plays" that the Blue Devils really needed. She harassed Fatima Maddox into losing the ball, and it was stolen by Smith, who took it in for a layup. Cheek, a rookie, drove the lane for a big basket. With that Duke had a double-digit lead back.
Temple did cut it to single digits once more -- eight, with 1:57 left -- but Gay closed the deal with another basket, Duke's final score of the night.
"I think Carrem is one of our best post defenders, and she's improved leaps and bounds from last year," Bales said. "And you have to guard her at the high post now, because of her outside shooting, but she's very athletic and can drive around you."
Harding had an uncharacteristically rough night handling the ball, with six turnovers, but she did get her scoring spark back, with a team-high 18 points. Smith had 15.
And Harding gave Gay a lot of credit afterward.
"Yes, she scored, and we needed that," Harding said. "But the big thing was her defense. She had some rebounds that made the difference for us at key times. I told Carrem at the beginning of the season that she could be one of the best defensive players in the country. I love the way she played. I'd love her to play like that for four more games."Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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