Duke women run out of steam against Irish onslaught in Elite Eight
When Skylar Diggins and the Notre Dame Fighing Irish got hot offensively in the second half, the Duke Blue Devils were in trouble.
Diggins finished with a game-high 24 points and nine assists to lead the top-seeded Irish to an 87-76 victory over the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils in the Norfolk Regional final Tuesday night at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
Diggins made 9 of 16 shots, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. The Irish made 9 of 16 shots from outside the arc.
“Coach (Muffet McGraw) lit a fire underneath us at the half,” Diggins said. “They were outworking us. They had 11 points off second-chance opporunities. They were beating us to 50-50 balls.
“We felt we could not get any worse. With the law of averages, we had to start making some shots. I liked the way my team responded to adversity.”
Overall, Notre Dame (34-1) shot 46 percent from the floor, but that was boosted by its 62.1 percent in the second half. Duke (33-2) shot 44.4 percent overall and made 4 of 10 shots from behind the arc.
“They got us with the three ball,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We were 40 (percent), which isn’t bad, but they were 56. That’s excellent; that’s impressive.”
Kayla McBride added 18 points for Notre Dame, which advances to the Final Four in New Orleans where it will face Connecticut, while Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd added 17 each.
“They definitely tood advantage and I think the biggest thing was ball movement, not only Skylar’s scoring,” McCallie said. “The way they moved the ball in the second half was much better than the first half. ... (Diggins) scored for them, (but her) nine assists were really the key because she found her teammates.”
Duke, which lost in the regional championship game for the fourth consecutive season, had to play much of the game with point guard Alexis Jones on the bench in foul trouble. Jones, who took over the point guard duties on Feb. 17 when Chelsea Gray suffered a season-ending knee injury, played only 12 minutes of the first half and 26 minutes overall after averaging 34.7 during the previous nine games.
“I’ve got to be smarter, learn when to pull back and learn when to take my time and just not foul,” Jones said. “I felt like we could have actually made a turnaround and come back.
“I think we got really frustrated. ... The game was really wide open for us on the offensive side, because I was getting in the paint.”
That was in the first half, when the Blue Devils led by up to nine points after trailing early and held a 37-31 lead at intermission.
Jones picked up her third foul less than a minute into the second half, then was called for charging at the 15:37 mark and went to the bench until a foul on Chloe Wells with 13:48 left sent Diggins to the line.
“I think that you can’t lose a point guard (in this type of game),” McCallie said. “This is one of those games where Lex has to learn; she’s still learning and going to be fine.
“(But) talk about having more to climb, I mean, come on.”
Elizabeth Williams, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, was called for a charge that wiped out a layup that would have given Duke a 44-43 lead with 15:09 left.
“With Natalie (Achonwa) taking the charges, we wanted to Jones out once she got her third,” McGraw said. “I thought that was huge. The ones we took on Williams and her — I think we took maybe three or four — just really big defensive stops.”
The Irish opened the second half with a 14-5 run and went ahead to stay with 16:08 left on a free throw by Loyd that started an 8-0 run to a 50-42 lead at the 13:16 mark.
Duke cut the lead to five point twice the rest of the way, the final time with 7:49 remaining, but could get no closer.
Notre Dame had 25 assists on its 29 field goals, while Duke finished with 11 assists and 21 costly turnovers.
“There’s definitely a lot of lessons from the game,” McCallie said. “The assist-to-turnover ratio is the biggest one. We didn’t execute and find each other on offense and we turned the ball over too much.
“You can’t be doing that at this level; you’re giving it away.”
It was a stark contrast from the first half, when the Blue Devils were in control much of the way.
Diggins picked up her second foul with 15:50 left in the first half and went to the bench with only two points, replaced by Kaila Turner, who sank a 3-pointer to build the Irish lead to 15-11 at the 12:26 mark.
Diggins returned to the lineup with 8:37 on the clock after Liston’s driving hook had given the Blue Devils the lead for the first time at 18-17. Liston added another driving bucket, and Elizabeth Williams followed a miss by Jones to build a 22-17 margin for the Blue Devils with 7:53 left.
“We had great spurts at times,” McCallie said. “(We) were fighting, but you have to fight for 40 minutes at this level.”
But 30 seconds later, Jones picked up her second foul when she was called for charging and went to the bench.
After Liston sank a pair of free throws, Wells drove inside with 5:15 remaining to give Duke a nine-point lead.
Loyd’s layup at the 4:42 mark broke a string of more than seven scoreless minutes by Notre Dame, cutting the margin to 26-19.
Diggins finally showed why she’s a first-team AP All-America beginning with 3:23 left in the half, sinking the first of three 3-pointers that were interrupted by a McBride basket inside as Notre Dame cut the deficit to 32-31 with 1:06 on the clock.
Williams scored inside for Duke, and Wells’ 3-pointer with three seconds before the buzzer gave the Blue Devils a 37-31 advantage at halftime.
“With 14 seconds left in the half, we were trying to get one shot,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We took a quick, bad shot and they hit a (3-pointer). It couldn’t have been worse, so I think that added a little more fuel to the fire for the halftime speech.”
NOTES — Diggins was the regional’s most outstanding player and was joined on the all-regional team by Achonwa, McBride, Liston and Jones. ... The 33 wins are the most during McCallie’s six seasons as head coach at Duke and the 10th time in 13 seasons that the Blue Devils have posted at least 30 victories. ... Duke senior Allison Vernerey played the 140th game of her career at Duke, two short of the program record. ... It was the fourth consecutive regional final for the Blue Devils, while Notre Dame has been in three straight.
|NOTRE DAME 87, DUKE 76|
Percentages: FG .444, FT .696.
3-Point Goals: 4-10, .400 (Peters 2-2, Liston 1-2, Wells 1-5, Jones 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 2.
Blocked Shots: 6 (Williams 3, Jones, Vernerey, Jackson).
Turnovers: 21 (Jones 7, Williams 4, Liston 3, Peters 3, Jackson 2, Wells).
Steals: 11 (Wells 4, Jones 2, Liston 2, Peters 2, Williams).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .460, FT .667.
3-Point Goals: 9-16, .563 (Diggins 4-8, McBride 3-5, Turner 1-1, Loyd 1-2).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Diggins, McBride, Braker, Achonwa).
Turnovers: 14 (Diggins 5, Achonwa 4, McBride 3, Loyd, Braker).
Steals: 10 (Diggins 5, Loyd 2, Achonwa 2, Braker).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials—Tina Napier, Jack Jones, Tom Danaher.