Sunday, March 24, 2013
DURHAM, North Carolina -- Heading into Sunday’s first round NCAA matchup with Hampton University, Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie was well aware of the ability of the team she was about to face.
“Hampton is the greatest No. 15 seed I have ever seen in my life,” said McCallie. “They are absolutely terrific.”
In their 67-51 win the Duke players and fans also learned how good Hampton was and how the intensity of the game gets turned up in NCAA play.
“I’ve been a mid-major coach before and I am sorry for Hampton that they are a 15 seed,” said McCallie, who led her Blue Devils to their 31st win of the season against just two losses. “They are trying to get their first NCAA victory and they should have been a higher seed, they earned that by what they did over the season, they earned that by who they beat, they did everything right and they had to come play Duke at Duke. They are a fantastic team and some of those women can play on any team. They might be the most athletic team we played including some of our ACC teams.”
Those student-athletes from Hampton just happened to meet a Duke team that heralds some of the best women’s basketball players in the country.
This is a Duke team that lost just two games all season and captured the ACC Tournament title with a two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year in Elizabeth Williams, the ACC Tournament MVP in Alexis Jones and the third leading three-point shooter in the country in Tricia Liston.
That threesome proved to be the difference in the game as Liston led all scorers with 20 points, Williams poured in another 18 and Jones tallied 11 points while dishing out 10 assists. The Blue Devils needed everything these players and their teammates could offer in order to hold off a very athletic and hustling Hampton University team that captured 28 victories and went through the MEAC season with a perfect 16-0 record.
At the end of the first half, it looked like all the hustling and work by Hampton just would not be enough to overcome the No. 5 ranked Blue Devils. A 32-15 lead and a poor shooting performance by the Pirates of just 21.2 percent (7-of-33) made it look like the Pirates would be making a quick return trip home.
But after Hampton cut their early 19-point lead to six, the Blue Devils (31-2) needed a late 21-8 run to secure their 20th straight NCAA tournament-opening victory. They will play seventh-seeded Oklahoma State (22-10) on Tuesday night in the second round.
"The last thing you want is to get the impression that things are easy, because they're just not," McCallie said. "This is a winners' tournament. They've won their tournament. They've won their league. They've won big games. ... You just have to know that, as we talk to the team, there's a competitor's mentality that is very different than a fan's mentality."
Keiara Avant had 18 points for Hampton (28-6). Avant's jumper with just over 10 minutes left capped a furious 27-14 rally that pulled the Pirates to 46-40.
They clawed back because they made a determined effort to attack the rim and work the ball inside, instead of settling for lower-percentage shots.
"We said we were taking too many jump shots. It was important that we get to the hole, try to get them in foul trouble," Avant said. "We knew if we could get inside, get them in foul trouble, that we definitely had a shot at coming back."
But Duke locked down defensively - forcing Hampton to miss 12 of its next 15 shots - and scored on five straight trips to regain some separation and end the Pirates' 19-game winning streak.
Williams hit back-to-back layups before Liston's scoop shot made it 52-42 and put Duke up by double figures for good.
"It was really important to get paint shots, especially in a game like this," Williams said. "We want to create contact, try to get to the foul line and try to get the easiest shots we can get."Haley Peters finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for Duke, which shot 50 percent in the second half and overcame some early struggles on the boards to outrebound Hampton by eight.
The Blue Devils stretched their home winning streak to 19 games and improved to 7-1 since losing Atlantic Coast Conference co-player of the year Chelsea Gray to a season-ending knee injury.
Olivia Allen finished with 15 points for the Pirates, but Nicole Hampton - who averages 12 points - had just two on 1-of-15 shooting while playing through what coach David Six said was a foot injury.
Hampton came in leading the nation by allowing an average of 47.2 points, and Duke became just the third opponent to score more than 60 against the Pirates.
"They had great ball pressure and we had to do some things that we hadn't done in the past couple of games," Liston said. "This will really help us grow and prepare us for our next game."
Neither team believed Hampton - which has wins over three opponents from major conferences - deserved such a poor seed, with McCallie saying afterward that the Pirates "should have been a higher seed" based on those non-conference victories.
"I said that nothing this weekend would make me think I was a 15 seed," Six said. "My mind still hasn't changed. We weren't a 15 seed."
The Pirates certainly showed how far they've come in the three years since their last visit to Duke - a 72-37 loss in the first round three years ago in which the teams had the same seeds as this year.
For a while, it looked as though that was going to happen to the Pirates again after the Blue Devils used a Williams-fueled 16-2 run to open a 19-point lead and seemingly break the game open.
The Virginia Beach, Va., native scored eight points during the burst before Liston's layup with just under 2 minutes left made it 32-13. Three of the Pirates' previous five opponents failed to crack 30 in an entire game.
"It's hard when you double down and you make a good play and they reverse it and they get a 3," Six said. "It deflates you a little bit. That being said, I thought that in the second half, we got after them defensively and forced them to turn the ball over - if they can be rattled. I thought that they showed that our defense was affecting them a little bit."