Suffocating Duke women's basketball matchup zone defense shuts down another top-10 opponent

Photo by Carolyn Chang | The Chronicle
A hot-shooting Louisville team that scored 91 points in its ACC opener went 6-of-23 from long range against the Blue Devils. 


In Duke’s previous two wins against ranked opponents this season, timely 3-pointers and midrange jumpers helped the Blue Devils pull away down the stretch.

The shots were not falling for Duke Monday, but the Blue Devils found a new formula for a win against a top-10 team, getting clutch stops on defense throughout the game to upset Louisville.
By Carolyn Chang / The Chronicle 
Sophomore Kyra Lambert led the Blue Devils with five steals and also had nine points and six rebounds.

The eighth-ranked Cardinals shot just 39.7 percent from the field, including 6-of-23 from 3-point range, and turned the ball over 19 times in Duke’s 58-55 win. The Blue Devils have held all nine opponents in their winning streak to 65 points or fewer with what has become a fearsome matchup zone, and Louisville became its latest victim.

“Defense is number one on our list of things to do in a game,” junior Lexie Brown said. “Defense is all about and energy, and you can control that in any game no matter if your shots are going in or they’re going out.”

Following a layup by junior forward Erin Mathias off an inbounds pass with 4:40 remaining to give Duke a 50-48 lead, Duke went scoreless for nearly three minutes. This would generally be a death sentence against a team like the Cardinals, but they could not take advantage of the Blue Devils’ scoring drought.

After All-ACC forward Mariya Moore—who had 14 points thanks to four 3-pointers but also committed seven turnovers—knocked down a triple with 4:21 left to give Louisville a 51-50 advantage, the Cardinals had a chance to extend that lead on their next three possessions. They came up empty all three times.

When Duke sophomore point guard Kyra Lambert came away with one of her five steals with about two minutes remaining, the Blue Devils finally got back on the scoreboard and back in the lead on a layup by senior forward Kendall Cooper.

By Carolyn Chang / The Chronicle 
The Blue Devils forced All-ACC forward Mariya Moore into seven turnovers Monday afternoon. 

“When you get steals, when you get big stops, it crushes the momentum of another team,” Brown said. “That’s the mindset we come into every game with.”

The Blue Devils finished the day with 13 steals, jumping into passing lanes to keep Louisville from getting the ball inside to its All-ACC frontcourt tandem of Myisha Hines-Allen and Moore. Brown had four steals in the backcourt to complement Lambert's activity nicely, and Cooper added three on the inside.

The Cardinals tried to force-feed the ball inside to exploit their size advantage, but Duke’s matchup zone was active all night and helped create offense, with the Blue Devils scoring 18 points off turnovers.

“We played a lot of matchup, and that’s taking away inside passing angles to those post players,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It starts with the guards and of course with the posts. You’re connected at the hip—all five players…. It’s always team defense.”

Duke could afford to focus on limiting the Cardinals easy buckets inside since star guard Asia Durr had a rare off night from 3-point range.

The sophomore entered the game averaging 18.5 points per game on 45.5 percent shooting from downtown with the second-most made 3-pointers in the nation. But Durr shot just 5-of-18 from the field and 2-of-12 from deep, failing to add another dimension to Louisville’s offense.

“We took a lot of really good shots. Unfortunately, the ball just did not go in,” Cardinal head coach Jeff Walz said. “When you’re going to play a team that’s going zone for 40 minutes, you’ve got to be able to knock down open shots, and that’s just what we didn’t do.”

Louisville’s frontcourt rebounded many of the misses—at halftime, the Cardinals had 10 offensive rebounds and the Blue Devils had just 12 defensive boards—but finished with only four second-chance points to show for its efforts.

“If you’re getting offensive boards, you have to be able to finish,” Walz said. “Starting off the game, I think we missed three layups. We got an offensive rebound, just missed it, and got it again and missed it. Those are ones you just have to be focused and finish.”

Duke did not score any second-chance points all game and pulled down just three offensive rebounds, with forward Oderah Chidom scoring a quiet six points and freshman Leaonna Odom struggling with the physicality of the game to finish with just two points.

The Blue Devils found another way to win, though, and if they can continue to play stifling defense against top competition, they will be in position to keep winning when the postseason comes around no matter how effective their offense is.

“Big games only occur in April, to be honest with you, March and April. Nothing’s big about this or any other game,” McCallie said. “What we learn from this game will be the test for us, what we learn and how we move forward.”





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