COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Duke Blue Devils, under the command of Head Coach Joanne McCallie handled Murray State this evening and sent the Racers back to Kentucky unfulfilled in their first NCAA Tournament berth. Wanisha Smith, Chante Black, and Jasmine Thomas led the Blue Devils with 16, 14, and 13 points as the No. 3 seeded Duke Blue Devils defeated the Racers in Comcast Center this evening.
"It's great to play," remarked Head Coach Joanne McCallie. "Seems like a long time since we've had the opportunity to play. I really appreciate the team effort that our players showed tonight. Everyone did something positive. I was really impressed by 21 offensive rebounds and 20 assists and their distribution. Smart play all the way around. All 3 of thee women led and took charge and made plays."
Duke got off to a 6-0 run using a jumper by Wanisha Smith and two fast break layups by Chante Black. Coming into the game the Duke defensive strategy was one of traps and full court press, and the Blue Devils executed it well throughout. "I thought Duke did a very nice job pressing us for 40 minutes, which obviously wears over a group of starting 5," remarked Murray state Head Coach Jody Adams. "I think we played a very good Duke team. We wanted to force them to shoot outside shots."
The Duke pressure was effective in the first half and forced the Racers to commit 7 turnovers. However, Murray State was also effective in in their own press and forced Chante Black, Jasmine Thomas, and Wanisha Smith to turn over the ball 2 times each. Overall Duke committed more turnovers in the first half (10) compared to Murray State, but made up for their ball handling deficiencies with solid shooting.
Wanisha Smith commented on the disjointed play in the early going and attributed it to not having court time for roughly two weeks: "It was just a matter of getting the kinks out and getting into the flow. Then we realized what plays were working and continued to get some good looks."
When the press was broken it led to scoring opportunities for the Racers. Murray State's Ashley Hayes as absolutely lethal when left alone in the first half, finding the net 3 times on 7 three point attempts. She evened out her scoring with 4 field goals in her 18 minutes of play in the first half. Duke Head Coach Joanne McCallie commented on the runs that Murray State assembled to bring the small college to within 4 with Hayes' help by saying, "You expect those kinds of runs and you talk about poise and that would be the last time we'd lose ours. We did some silly thing's defensively. It was a combination of losing our poise on defense and offense during a couple of minutes. ... This is a winner's tournament. All of the teams are really good. There's a reason why we're here. That #23, well she got the best of us because we didn't do anything to stop her."
Despite runs by Murray State Duke was able to pull away to a 12 point lead before the end of the first half. Although disappointed by her team's performance, Murray State Head Coach Jodi Adams was understanding given her team's lack of experience in NCAA play. She described the 9,000 student-strong experience by saying "We don't fly. We bus. We play local teams. This is their first time playing in an facility as large and nice as Comcast. This is their first time coming through security and not being able to touch a game ball as soon as they enter. We're not going to change because everybody else does one thing. We know who we are and where we come from. Our program is built on hard work and we did our best."
Despite their valiant efforts the Racers were unable to close the gap in the closing minutes of play and were unable to forge a comeback. Up by 24 with under 40 seconds to play the Duke coach, still less than a year old on the Duke Coaching Staff, encouraged her squad to continue the full court press, drawing the ire of the mixed Maryland and Murray State crowd. In the post-game press conference she was unaware of the cause of the booing that ensued. After having it explained to her by a reporter she opined on the Maryland crowd "They're just great coaches aren't they. ... Clever. That must be the turtle IQ."