DURHAM – Plagued by turnovers, shooting a dismal percentage from the field, the Duke women's basketball team never found an offensive rhythm against Kentucky.
Making baskets has been a problem of late.
Still, the No. 3 Blue Devils found another way to knock off another ranked team, this time easing by the No. 10 Wildcats with a 54-48 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Propped up by their defense, the Devils forced 22 turnovers and held the Wildcats to 39.1 percent from the floor, holding senior Victoria Dunlap to 10 points and limiting the team’s leading scorer’s impact on this nationally televised game.
Duke, which has earned gritty victories over Texas A&M and Xavier, did so again – for the most par – with hawkish defense. The Devils poked balls free from behind players, jumped into passing lanes for steals and stuck hands in shooter’s faces.
In the end, the game turned in the Devils’ favor on critical defensive plays. And, of course, they involved senior Jasmine Thomas.
After hitting a jump shot to tie the game at 48-48 with 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining, Thomas pressured Kentucky guard Keyla Snowden and created an opportunity for Duke senior Karima Christmas to steal the ball.
Following a timeout, the Devils took a two-point lead on a short jumper by freshman Chelsea Gray, who ended up with the ball off a broken play and confidently put the ball through the net for the game-winning shot. The play was reviewed but upheld by the referees.
A block in the lane by Duke senior Krystal Thomas gave the Devils possession with 25.3 seconds remaining. Thomas, fouled, made one of two free throws.
Shortly thereafter, Thomas made another play, blocking a 3-point attempt by Snowden.
Upset by the call, Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell was called for a technical. Thomas, who had been fouled, stepped to the line and made three of four free throws to seal the game.
Finding points became a chore for the Devils in the second half. They did not make a field goal until freshman Tricia Liston nailed a 3-pointer with 12:02 remaining.
Her shot from the left arc was set up by a perfect chest pass from the paint by sophomore center Allison Vernerey.
Despite outrebounding Kentucky 52-36, Duke had a miserable offensive night, shooting 26.5 percent from the field.
The Devils had made only two fields by the time Jasmine Thomas snaked into the lane off an inbounds play and finished a layup with 6:18 remaining. She finished with 24 points on 8-for-24 shooting. She added two assists, three blocks, three steals in 34 minutes.
A series of plays by Thomas staked the Devils to a lead heading into the break. Thomas, who like her teammates struggled shooting from the floor, was 2 for 11 from the field before she nailed a jump shot with 1:44 remaining.
Thomas then plucked a steal and fed Liston for a jump shot on the right baseline. She then hit a jumper with 24.5 seconds left and closed out the half with a layup to finish an 8-0 Duke run over the final two minutes.
Thomas finished the half with 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting in 16 minutes.
Duke shot 31.6 percent from the field. Poor shots, missed shots and overall bad execution on offensive continued for the Devils, who in the past three games have found sinking baskets difficult – even those simple putback layups. They also committed 15 turnovers.
Duke held the Wildcats scoreless over a six minute stretch during the first half, disrupting them with hands in faces and jumping into passing lanes for steals.
The Wildcats, who average 80.4 points per game, emerged from their scoreless drought midway through the first half on a 3-pointer by sharp shooter Snowden, who entered the game hitting at least four treys in four consecutive games.
The Wildcats would take a short-lived 20-18 lead at 8:41 of the first half, but were held without a field goal over the next eight minutes.