Commentary

Duke returns to form, routs Terps

Originally Published: February 17, 2014
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

DURHAM, N.C. -- The script called for a down-to-the-wire nail-biter between the Duke and Maryland women's basketball teams. But the Blue Devils weren't having any of that.

In what one would assume is the Big Ten-bound Terrapins' last visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium (until about a week after Hell freezes over, perhaps), Duke won 84-63 and took over ownership of its home again.

Which is not surprising, except for the fact that Duke had lost its last two games in this building to Notre Dame and North Carolina. But with a week to prepare for the Terps, the Blue Devils made the most of that time to reflect on what had gone wrong.

"We had a harsh discussion on Tuesday," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Tar Heels last Monday. "[The players] had Wednesday and Thursday off, and they just killed it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday [in practice]. The defense was back, and we went deeper today."

The defense that gave up 88 points to the Irish and 89 to the Tar Heels held Maryland to a season-low 32.4 percent shooting from the field. Maryland All-American Alyssa Thomas had 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, but was 5-of-16 from the field. The Terps shot 5-of-21 from 3-point range.

[+] EnlargeAlexis Jones
Lance King/Getty ImagesAlexis Jones' 5-of-9 effort on 3-pointers (which led to her season-high 22 points) helped Duke shoot 53 percent from the field.

Leading the way for Duke was the "1-2" punch of junior center Elizabeth Williams (17 points, 11 rebounds) and sophomore guard Alexis Jones, who tied a season high with 22 points. Those two actually wear jerseys Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

Thomas is No. 25, and hers was the jersey worn by both Markus and Tyler Thomas, sons of Maryland coach Brenda Frese and her husband, Mark Thomas. The whole family was at Cameron on Monday, which was the twins' sixth birthday.

Maryland last won in this building on Feb. 17, 2008; Frese gave birth earlier that day, so she wasn't actually at that game.

Monday's matchup was the lone Maryland-Duke game this regular season; the Blue Devils are not going to College Park, Md., for the first time since the 1980-81 season. And unless they meet in the upcoming ACC and/or NCAA tournaments, don't expect to see these two rivals play again in the foreseeable future.

There is the ACC/Big Ten challenge, but it probably would be a surprise to see Maryland and Duke matched up -- at least if Duke has much to say about it, since the Blue Devils (and the ACC) clearly don't have goodwill toward Maryland anymore.

The Terps' move to the Big Ten next season has made them a bit like pariahs throughout the ACC this year. But, hey, thanks for the memories.

The all-time series record is now 41-39 in favor of Duke. But, of course, the Terps won the biggest game the two ever played: the 2006 national championship.

"It's been phenomenal," Frese said of the series. "I think both programs have made each other better."

Monday, though, the Blue Devils were definitely the better of the two. Jones had her motor turned on "high" throughout the game, which is exactly what Duke needs from her.

"She's our point guard and leader on the floor," Williams said. "For her to display that type of energy, it really gets us going both offensively and defensively. It was really nice to see that confidence in her."

Among the other good things Duke saw was the performances of freshmen Kendall McCravey-Cooper and Oderah Chidom, who combined for 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots. McCallie wanted more depth in her squad, and those two helped provide it. And their size -- both are 6 feet, 4 inches -- contributed to Duke's 44-37 edge on the boards.

[+] EnlargeElizabeth Williams
Lance King/Getty ImagesDuke's Elizabeth Williams tallied 17 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, three assists and three blocks.

While Haley Peters' offense was down for the second consecutive game -- she had three points Monday, and none against North Carolina -- McCallie was pleased with the senior's defense.

"It was great to see Haley play multiple positions defensively," McCallie said. "She was an X factor in the game. If you look at the stats, you might overlook that, but she was absolutely critical in this game."

Also not to be overlooked was another Duke senior, Richa Jackson. She had her best game of the season statistically with 19 points, four rebounds, and four steals. Jackson also spent time guarding Thomas and helped make her night more difficult.

Would this have been a different kind of contest -- one more fitting for a Duke-Maryland saga -- had the Terps shot the ball better? Absolutely. And it just seemed like something was off with Maryland all night. But credit goes to Duke, obviously, for playing the kind of defense that bothered the Terps.

The Blue Devils needed this win, and needed to play the way they did. At 10-2, they are second in the ACC behind unbeaten Notre Dame, which defeated Georgia Tech on Monday to move to 12-0 in the league. NC State is in third place at 9-3, while Maryland and North Carolina are 8-4.

The Terps finish the regular season against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia Tech. Maryland is favored in all of those games, and Frese feels like her squad can still learn and improve before its final ACC tournament.

"We have to be better on the road," she said. "That's an element for us that's inconsistent. We have to continue to grow as a team."

Duke, meanwhile, has a tougher slate, with three ranked foes in its last four regular-season games. The Blue Devils host NC State here in Cameron on Thursday, and then travel to Notre Dame for a Sunday afternoon showdown on ESPN. They play Wake Forest on Feb. 27, and then go to North Carolina on March 2.

But facing that closing stretch after the way they played Monday has to make the Blue Devils feel 100 percent better than they did a week earlier.

"I think one of the biggest things for us is to have fun and enjoy what we are doing," Williams said. "We just tried to relax and do what we do."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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