FRESNO, Calif. — Dukes long-armed, stifling zone defense helped ignite its fastbreak game and the second-seeded Blue Devils ran away with a 74-47 win against No. 3 St. Johns on Saturday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA womens basketball tournament.
With Duke guard Chelsea Gray smothering St. Johns passing lanes and pushing the tempo with her aggressiveness toward the basket and nifty passing, the Blue Devils rallied from an early eight-point deficit, and went on a 13-0 run to go into halftime and ahead 36-25.
Dukes lead continued to grow early in the second half as its zone defense helped create 19 turnovers, and went ahead by 21 points within the first five minutes of the second half. Duke finished with 15 steals.
It was a good move by us, said Gray of Dukes decision to switch from a man defense to a 1-2-2 zone midway through the first half. We were really getting into the passing game. That fueled our offense.
Duke (27-5) advances to the Elite Eight for the third straight year and will face Saturdays late-night winner between No. 1 Stanford and No. 5 South Carolina in the regional final at the Save Mart Center.
The Blue Devils are trying to reach their first Final Four since 2003.
Gray finished with 13 points and was one of four Duke players in double figures. Teammate Shay Selby had team-highs with 18 points and seven assists.
Elizabeth Williams, Dukes 6-foot-3 freshman center whos been playing with a stress fracture in her right lower leg, had 10 points and five rebounds.
Every game we grow a little more, Duke coach Joanne McCallie said. Its just different people stepping up. I know talent is really important, but I also think wanting to play together [is important]. Everybody was feeding off each other.
Gray and Williams both were part of the most impressive play of the game.
With two seconds remaining in the first half, Gray shouted at Williams to run down court on an inbounds pass. Gray launched a long, high inbounds pass that only Williams could get. Williams tapped the ball to teammate Tricia Liston, who buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Gray also found Williams on a fast break with a no-look pass. Williams missed the layup but immediately scored on the putback.
St. Johns started the game draining six of its first seven shots to go up 15-7 with 15:12 before halftime. But Duke tied it up at 17 with 10:42 left in the first half on a pair of free throws from Kalia Johnson.
Duke took its first lead of the game at 21-19 on a Williams layup with 9:26 left in the half.
Down 25-23, Duke went on a 13-0 run in a stretch in which St. Johns had five turnovers. St. Johns, playing in its first Sweet 16, had problems in particular after forward DaShena Stevens picked up her second foul with 13:18 left in the first half.
DaShena is our strength in the zone, St. Johns coach Kim Barnes said. Shes really our go-to person in the zone. That was probably the turning point when they took her out.