One of the most entertaining aspects of this game was the offense. This game was billed to be the team who can make offense look like poetry against the team who struggles to find the right rim to chuck the ball at. This was youth vs. experience. This was offense vs. defense. This was Big East vs. Atlantic Coast. This was Blue Devil vs. Blue Demon. Advantage to the devil.
Duke advanced to face Connecticut after a 70-63 victory over the Depaul Blue Demons before a crowd of 5,734 at the Liacouras Center at Temple University.
Duke has made a habit of winning close and winning ugly all season. They have had come from behind victories against a number of teams including against Charlotte, Texas A&M, N.C. State and Marist. So I was surprised as anyone when Depaul came out and put on an offensive display. They attacked off the dribble, they rebounded and they made shots when shots had to be made.
When they weren’t making jump shots they were penetrating into the gaps and getting lay ups. When that was a struggle they went to the glass and led 41-28 at the half after being led by an unusual star player in Karima Christmas. Christmas was vital in Duke to the line 11 times in the first half and drawing a number of Depaul players into foul trouble. Duke was able to expand their lead to as many as 15 points in the first half and looked to be on a roll after 14 points by the senior.
"We had no answer for Christmas," said Depaul head coach Doug Bruno. "We couldn’t guard her and nothing we tried to do could manage her. Fee Chester probably did the best job on her, but we were akso very small with everyone healthy."
To make matters worse for Depaul was that Taylor Pikes who has averaged 7.0 points and 6.1 rebounds was not available to play for the Depaul Blue Demons. Pikes has an undisclosed injury but the AP reported that she suffered a knee injury during the game against Penn State in the 2nd round. This limits Depaul’s ability to get out in transition. Depaul has never been a half court team and when forced to go against a deeper, more athletic team they struggled. The 2nd half was a concerted effort to get the ball off the rim and up the floor faster.
What is surprising is that the Blue Devils have typically been a 2nd half team. Duke on the season has averaged 33.6 points in the first half so for them to score 41 points was a bit of an anomaly. Duke reverted back to their old ways only scoring 29 points in the half and 13 of those points coming from the free throw line. Duke who shoots 35% from 3 for the season and averages 5.7 made 3’s per game was limited to 1-10 shooting. There 42% shooting on the year was reduced to 38.7% and Depaul started to get some rebounds and hit some shots that were rimming out and falling short in the first half.
Depaul’s go to player Keisha Hampton was rendered for the most part inefficient. She was limited in her ability to help her team partially because of foul trouble and also because Duke was bigger, stronger and faster.
"I thought Keisha was growing into the role of being our go-to player," said coach Bruno. "She really carried us against Notre Dame and Penn State and it’[s a tough ball game for Keisha. She’s a very special player and already she’s done so much for us but she had a tough night and Duke made her have a tough night."
Duke’s ability to get rebounds and stops when it needed it early allowed for a cushion against the 5 - 3 pointers that Depaul was able to connect on in the second. But by then it was too late as Hampton was sitting on the bench with 5 fouls.
Duke won this game at the foul line essentially, by scoring 11 more points there than Depaul was able to manage. Part of that has to do with style of play as Duke is a pound it in and take you off the dribble type of team and Depaul is a pass it around the perimeter and fundamentally finesse type of team.
You can’t typically get to the stripe shooting jump shots so the 2:1 margin at the line was essentially a ramification of the Blue Demons style of play. That didn’t stop the Blue Demon fans from showing their displeasure in the officials Sue Blauch, Kathleen Lynch and Ed Sidalsky.
Also having a tough night was the Duke Blue Devil mascot. At one point in the 2nd half the character came over to the Depaul sideline and engaged the Blue Demon mascot in a little showmanship. Advantage NCAA.
A NCAA representative promptly came over and sent the Blue Devil back to his own realm. The good news for the devil is that he can try again when Duke takes on the Connecticut Huskies with the chance to advance to the Final Four on Tuesday at 7 PM on ESPN.