The second half of the ACC schedule sets up nicely for Duke to solidify itself as not only an NCAA tournament team, but one worthy of hosting early-round games.
The Blue Devils started that march on Sunday with a convincing win over Wake Forest.
By holding the Demon Deacons to their worst shooting of the season, No. 14 Duke ran to an easy 71-43 ACC women’s basketball win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Lexie Brown scored 28 points for Duke (18-4, 6-3 ACC) as she reached the 20-point plateau for the fourth consecutive game.
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Defensively, Duke limited Wake Forest a season-worst 25.4 percent shooting. The Deacs (13-8, 4-4) also turned the ball over 25 times. Duke recorded 16 steals and five blocked shots to impact both statistics.
“We didn’t play our best, and Duke had a lot to do with that,” Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover said. “They are long, and they are athletic, and they caused that.”
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said her team fed off its defensive intensity and pointed to her team’s 41 points scored off Wake turnovers as a sign of strength.
“I think deflections and steals and hustle plays make a team go and when it is shared across the board like anything else, they can feed off each other,” McCallie said. “We have some great quickness and we had fun playing with a smaller lineup at one point with four guards and also a bigger lineup with three posts. Having steals and controlling the game is important and makes it a lot better defensively.”
Duke remained unbeaten on its home court this season and will have four more home games among its final seven regular-season games overall.
After missing the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1994, Duke was ranked No. 11 by the tournament selection committee during its first seed announcement for this season last week. The top 16 teams will have the opportunity to play first- and second-round games on their home courts.
Of Duke’s final seven regular-season games, only two are against teams that had a winning ACC record following Sunday’s games. Both of those games will be at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke entered Sunday’s game with Wake Forest after losing 62-58 at No. 8 Notre Dame on Thursday night.
Building off that solid, yet unsatisfying performance, the Blue Devils played aggressively to take control of the game by halftime.
As Duke went scoreless the first four times it possessed the ball in the second quarter, Wake Forest took an 18-16 lead when Elisa Penna sank a 3-pointer with 7:25 left.
But that was the last field goal Wake Forest made in the first half. Including early minutes after halftime, Wake Forest went nine minutes and 44 seconds without making a shot from the field.
Brown took a pass from forward Erin Mathias and sank an easy layin to tie the score at 18 before Rebecca Greenwell’s 3-pointer put Duke in front for good.
A Brown 3-pointer and a Crystal Primm free throw gave Duke a 9-0 run and a 25-18 lead.
After a Wake Forest free throw, Duke rattled of six more points in a row to lead 31-19.
Leading 37-20 at halftime, Duke scored the first six points of the third quarter to push its lead over 20 points to 43-20.
It was only after that had been accomplished that Wake Forest ended its field-goal drought.
The Blue Devils had specific defensive goals in mind and was able to establish them.
“It starts on the defensive end,” Brown said. “We set defensive goals for a score that we don’t want them to get over. Our goal today was 50, so we wanted to keep them to at least under 25 at the half. We had to just ramp up the defensive energy, and defense always leads to offense, so I think that’s how our offense started to get going.”
Duke’s narrow loss at Notre Dame robbed the Blue Devils of a chance to add another impressive win to a resume that already includes wins over No. 5 South Carolina, No. 9 Louisville and No. 19 Virginia Tech.
With only one ranked team (Miami) among the final seven regular-season games, the Blue Devils are taking that Notre Dame loss and looking to turn it into a strong finishing kick.
“We are trying to take from that and really put together a continuity about how we play with ball control,” McCallie said. “We had the ball a lot today. We were able to control and make passes so that’s the nature of things right now. We’re heading into February so I think we need to cut loose a little more offensively in terms of how we attack the basket. That’s sort of the next thing for us in transition.”