Duke 97, USC 89

By now, if you hadn’t seen it on TV yourself, you’ve heard about this strange game – truly one of the weirdest I’ve seen in a while.

In a nutshell, SC played their asses off for 38 minutes making shots, stealing the ball and clamping down on defense. Then in overtime, they fell apart. It was like a different team emerged from the huddle, and Duke surged on the momentum they’d gained in the last two minutes of regulation to dominate the overtime period and take the win.

It was quick, and it was surprising, because Duke only looked good for seven minutes of the 45 played. SC took the lead early in the game on the strength of their outside shots, and they are loaded with shooters. Brynn Cameron was 5-10 on two-shots and 4-9 from three-point range; Briana Gilbreath was 5-9 and Kari Laplante 4-6; Heather Oliver was 4-7 and 2-3.

The Trojans went up 18-10 at 12:08 in the first half, and they lead by about that margin for almost six minutes before Duke made its first mini-run. They caught up to take a 31-30 lead with just under 6 to go, but a big Ashley Corral bucket ignited SC. Both teams trades buckets evenly for the last few minutes of the period, ending it tied at 41.

Duke opened the second half shooting poorly, and SC’s brutal man defense made the Blue Devils struggle in the paint. A beautiful Camille LeNoir behind-the-back pass to Gilbreath for a bucket, and then a LeNoir three on the next play, put the Trojans up 51-42 at 16:37.

It was at this point in the game that I wrote in my notes “Duke can’t make shit happen in the paint and can’t hit a bucket” and “USC can’t miss.” That trend continued for almost the next 10 minutes. I kept thinking Duke would make a move and take over the game, but it wasn’t happening. They were behind by 14 at 10:57, and I began to see the 12th-ranked Blue Devils losing.

Duke had a mini-run and cut the lead to 69-64 at 7 to go, but another SC run put them back up by 11 two minutes later. Time kept ticking away, and I began seeing forks in my head because Duke seemed done. It was 79-69 at the 2:32 mark. The Blue Devils’ Jasmine Thomas, a sophomore, had 17 points. Senior Abby Waner had three, and I wish I had got how many points senior Chante Black had, because it was the play of these three in the last moments of the game that carried their team over the top.

With under two minutes to go, Waner drained a three. A missed SC foul shot later, she hit again – this time on a lazy side hook shot. In the overtime, Black made a power layup, Thomas a steal and a layup, and then Waner stole the ball from LeNoir for the fast break and layup. Duke was really rolling.

Cameron scored a three for SC, but Thomas drove for a layup on the next play. Two Trojan fouls shots put them within four, 93-89, with 44.6 seconds left, but Black was fouled and made both her shots, and the game was out of reach for SC.

On Duke’s side I was very impressed with Thomas, who came off the bench for 22 points, and Selby, another bench player who added 11. Thomas had a nice shot (she was 8-15), and Selby is very gutsy, particularly for a newcomer. On one play in the first half, she put her head and shoulder down and was racing up and down the side past Trojan defenders, ruthlessly seeking the right spot for a shot. In the second half, she made a big move to the basket for the score. The girl has got something there.

SC has a lot of impressive shooters, and I don’t understand why they don’t have a better record than they do. They clearly have a lot of talent on their team. And LeNoir is subbed out too much; she is a dynamic, intelligent point guard who deserves the top spot a little more than she gets it.

Odds and ends:

Joanne McCallie has her eyes open wide when she’s talking to the team during timeouts. She is very facially expressive.

The entire Duke team seems very upbeat and positive. They came out in warmups with a lot of energy in clapping and being vocal. At timeouts, when the coaches are talking to the side, there is always one player (usually Krystal Thomas) standing up urging her seated teammates on with positive comments.

USC grad/former player, Love and Basketball player, and assistant coach to Colleen Matsuhara at West LA College Jessica Cheeks came into the game a little late. She was wearing her SC letter jacket, but came in and hugged a Duke fan and sat behind us in the Duke section.

The reffing was horrible. They missed a heckuva lot of calls for Duke, and sometimes they dropped into ticky-tack mode. In other words, miss the big calls and make the non-calls. For example: in the first half, Gilbreath and Selby both had their hands on the ball and Gilbreath slammed Selby to the ground. They called jump ball. In the second half, Thomas slammed LeNoir to the ground and was called for a foul, but it should have been flagrant. The refs must work in the WNBA, I decided.

Last night’s game was part of a tournament, and tonight SC did win over Harvard, while Duke beat Siena.

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