Duke women beat Vanderbilt, advance to Sweet 16

CorrespondentMarch 20, 2012 

— Minutes after Duke punched its ticket to its 14th Sweet 16 in the last 15 years, Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie was asked about the Blue Devils’ next opponent – St. John’s.

McCallie admitted she’ll have to brush up on the Red Storm. Her players, however, are all over the scouting report on the California dining options.

“This team is talking about In-N-Out Burger. That is what they were talking about after the game,” McCallie said of the Western fast-food chain. “It is pretty funny and they have a chant and everything. … They want to keep playing. They know that it is hard work out there and the immediacy of this tournament can be daunting. I think they’re having a good time together.”

Indeed, the Blue Devils had a blast Tuesday night, overwhelming No. 7 seed Vanderbilt for a 96-80 victory in the second round of the Fresno Region of the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

Sophomores Haley Peters and Chelsea Gray combined for 48 points to send No. 2 seed Duke (26-5) westbound to Fresno, Calif., where they’ll meet No. 3 seed St. John’s in a regional semifinal on Saturday.

Against host Vanderbilt (23-10), the Blue Devils secured their Sweet 16 spot by jumping on the Commodores from the start.

Duke opened the game shooting 77.8 percent (14-of-18), cooled down to 67.6 percent by halftime and finished shooting a season-best 65.6 percent. By halftime, the Blue Devils led 56-32 – a season-best in first-half points for Duke and the most in an opening half in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think any time you play a team as talented as they are that it is easy,” said Peters, who scored 15 of her career-high 25 points before halftime. “We did a lot of good things on the offensive end – moving the ball and not falling in love with the dribble. And we continued to get stops during that whole stretch.”

The Commodores (23-10) had kept pace with Duke early in the first half as the teams combined to score on 11 consecutive possessions. Vanderbilt, which ranked sixth in field-goal percentage (46.4), momentarily took its only lead, 14-13, with 14:49 left on Christina Foggie’s 3-pointer.

Duke's Chelsea Gray answered with a 3 and Vanderbilt’s Stephanie Holzer knotted the game up one last time with an offensive putback on the next possession.

From there, Duke did what it wanted offensively.

After Tricia Liston's layup propelled the Blue Devils ahead for good with 13:34 left, Peters scored Duke’s next nine points. In that stretch, Peters, who was 12-of-16 from the field, summed up the Blue Devils’ offensive efficiency. Her four straight baskets came in a variety of ways: a transition layup on a no-look pass from Gray; two jumpers and an open 3-pointer.

Duke's gigantic spurt ended up being a 13-0 run, with 6-foot-3 center Elizabeth Williams backing her way in for an easy basket to give Duke a 42-20 lead with 5:32 left.

A 3-pointer by Liston, who tied a career high with 23 points, pushed the lead to 27 points 14 seconds into the second half. The advantage didn’t deflate to 15 points until the final two minutes.

“We defensively did not come out ready,” said Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb, whose team allowed a season high in points. “We didn’t take anything away from them. We didn’t dictate, didn’t force turnovers and they shot the lights out. From that point on they had a lot of confidence and it never wavered.”

Duke scored 28 points off 18 turnovers, forcing 11 by halftime, and flustered the Commodores on their home floor.

Vanderbilt was 18-1 at home this season and entered the game with an impressive 16-1 record in NCAA Tournament games in Nashville. The Commodores’ only two losses have come to ACC teams. North Carolina upended Vanderbilt 79-60 in a second-round game in 2006.

“That’s never easy against a team that’s as talented as they are,” Peters said. “So I think it’s something that we worked for.”

Foggie led all scorers with 26 points and tied a personal-best with seven 3-pointers. Jasmine Lister added 16 as Vanderbilt shot 46.8 percent from the floor.

Five players scored in double figures for Duke. Williams scored 13 and Shay Selby added 12. Gray recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 assists.

The sophomore now returns to her home state. She grew up in Stockton, Calif., which is 120 miles north of Fresno.

“I’m excited. I’ve already started asking for tickets,” Gray said. “I’m just real excited. I love this team and we are taking it one game at a time. So I’m excited to go home and play.”

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