By Jerome Boettcher - correspondent
Behind blistering shooting, Duke punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 for the 14th time in 15 years.
Sophomore Haley Peters scored a career-high 25 points and five Blue Devils finished in double digits as No. 2 seed and sixth-ranked Duke blasted No. 7 seed Vanderbilt for an 96-80 victory on Tuesday night in the second round of the Fresno Region of the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
“They were all in and all ready to go,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “This team is going to Fresno, they deserve to go to Fresno and we’ve got to keep it going.”
Duke (26-5) headed back to Durham after the game but will board a flight on Thursday to Fresno, Calif. to play either No. 3 seed St. John’s or sixth seed Oklahoma in a regional semifinal on Saturday.
The Blue Devils entered with the nation’s fourth-best field goal shooting percentage (47.1) and were red hot in steamy and un-air conditioned Memorial Gymnasium, which reached 89 degrees for the second time in three days.
Host Vanderbilt (23-10) was 18-1 at home this season and entered the game with an impressive 16-1 record in NCAA Tournament games at Memorial. The Commodores’ only two losses have come to ACC teams. North Carolina upended Vanderbilt 79-60 in a second-round game in 2006.
Duke opened the game shooting 77.8 percent (14-of-18), cooled down to 67.6 percent by halftime and finished shooting a season-best 65.6 percent. By halftime, the Blue Devils led 56-32 – a season-best in first-half points for Duke and the most in an opening half of this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils grabbed their largest lead 14 seconds in when Tricia Liston opened the final half with a 3-pointer. Liston tied a career-high with 23 points.
Duke faced little resistance in the first half. All eight players scored and three reached double figures by the break – Peters (15), Elizabeth Williams (11) and Chelsea Gray (10).
Up 5-4, Peters’ jumper at the 17:18 mark sparked an offensive flurry. The Blue Devils scored on their next 12 possessions and made nine straight baskets. Gray capped off the streak with a jumper for a 31-20 lead with 9:49 remaining in the half. But it came in the middle of a monster 26-4 run, which began with the game tied at 16.
After a Liston layup propelled the Blue Devils ahead for good with 13:34 left, Peters scored Duke’s next nine points. In that stretch, Peters, who was 12-of-16 from the field, summed up the Blue Devils’ offensive efficiency. Her four straight baskets came in a variety of ways: a transition layup on a no-look pass from Gray, who had 12 assists and 12 points; two jumpers and an open 3-pointer.
A 13-0 run capped off the gigantic spurt, with 6-foot-3 center Elizabeth Williams backing her way in for an easy basket to give Duke a 42-20 lead with 5:32 left. The advantage didn’t deflate to 15 points until the final two minutes.
All nine Blue Devils scored as Williams scored 13 and Shay Selby added 12.
The Commodores (23-10) had kept pace with Duke early in the first half as the teams combined to score on 11 consecutive possessions. Vanderbilt, which ranked sixth in field-goal percentage (46.4), momentarily took its only lead, 14-13, with 14:49 left on Christina Foggie’s 3-pointer. Gray answered with a 3 and Vanderbilt’s Stephanie Holzer knotted the game up one last time with an offensive putback on the next possession.
Foggie led all scorers with 26 points and guard Jasmine Lister added 16 as Vanderbilt shot 46.8 percent from the floor.