Twice this week, the Pac-10 had a chance to knock off Duke and earn points for a league that has struggled getting wins against marquee opponents. But it didn’t happen either time.
Tuesday, Duke held off visiting Stanford 56-52 in a “battle” of who made the least of many miscues between the two. Then the Blue Devils jetted to Tinseltown for a matchup with Southern Cal that had “dangerous” stamped on it for Duke.
And, indeed, it looked like USC was going to do what the Cardinal couldn’t. In the end, though, a career-high 22 points from Jasmine Thomas (photo), which was matched by Chante Black (who is having a fantastic season) propelled the Devils to a “they-really-needed-this” 97-89 win. In overtime, no less.
It was a crazy path to get there. The Trojans were up by a dozen in the first half. Duke came back and tied it at halftime. USC went up by 17 in the second half. Duke came back.
Then the Trojans were up by 13 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Duke came back AGAIN to make it tight. Then with just one lousy minute and a half remaining, USC was still leading by eight. But Duke forced overtime.
This was like those fight scenes in movies where one guy is beating the stuffing out of the other, but then the roles are reversed and the other guy starts beating the heck out of the first guy … and then they switch … and then they switch again.
Ultimately, Thomas/Black’s scoring, Duke’s defense (when it woke up), Carrem Gay’s 14 points/12 boards and the Devils’ rebounding superiority STILL wasn’t enough to beat USC – even adding in the Trojans’ bad case of free-throw-line jitters at the end of regulation.
Nope, it took one more thing for Duke: Abby Waner’s “Amazing Half-Minute.”
Now, I’d guess most Duke fans watching were thinking they were about ready to throttle Waner (figuratively speaking, of course) as this game went along. Her turnovers, shooting woes and decision-making were all causing them angst.
But, you know, sometimes the gunslinger in Waner really does shoot her way out of trouble _ and carrries Duke with her. Which she did with a 3-pointer at the 17-second mark and an almost-circus-looking toss into the basket with 3 seconds left.
Then, as these things often go when the favored team escapes the guillotine in regulation, Duke dominated overtime. You could tell the USC players were thinking, “How did this happen?”
Those missed free throws – they were 18 of 28 from the line _ really, really hurt the Trojans. But I’m more inclined to give credit to Duke for this win than bash USC for losing it.
Both teams had turnoveritis – a combined 53, even worse than the Duke-Stanford game in that regard _ and that’s something the Devils (29 TOs) really have to address if they’re to be a serious contender in March.
But … they have shown “rally ability” in both the Stanford and USC games. The pessimist might say the Devils had to claw their way back because they kept digging and re-digging holes against USC. But the optimist can point out that they at least they DID win these two games – and getting the victory in LA, where the Trojans did show some real stretches of talent _ should be one Duke can draw inspiration from. To keep climbing back and not panicking, especially on the road, showed guts.
Late in the game, Thomas provided an “effort” play that symbolized the fight in this Duke squad. She stayed with the ball, scrambling acrobatically past two Trojans, to get a steal and took it in for a layup.
That play by Thomas said, “We WILL figure out how to win this game.”