by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM "March Madness" has come to Duke's home floor, as for the first time in six seasons the Blue Devils are hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Tournament.
The No. 6 Blue Devils, who lost a heartbreaker in the second round last season at Michigan State, appreciate sleeping in their own beds this week.
But their first-round opponent for Duke, seeded No. 2 in the Memphis Region, isn't necessarily an easy one.
No. 15 seed Hampton is coming off an impressive run to win the MEAC Tourmament, and has brought several hundred enthusiastic fans down for the game.
No. 7 seed LSU has little trouble with No. 10 seed Hartford in the opener, winning 60-39 in a game from which Hawks coach Jennifer Rizzotti is ejected.
Hampton makes some early trouble for the Blue Devils, but things return to form well before halftime in a 72-37 Duke win. It is the Pirates' worst loss of the season, while Duke has advanced to the second round of the NCAA for the 15th straight season.
The Blue Devils and Tigers will play in the second round here on Monday night at 7, with the winner advancing to the Memphis Regional semifinals on March 27.
Hampton takes an 8-5 lead on a Laura Lewis layup at 16:01, but Duke takes the lead for good at 9-8 on an Allison Vernerey layup at 15:09. The taller Blue Devils never look back, leading 40-14 at halftime.
The biggest lead is 38 on two occasions, the last time when Joy Cheek hits a free throw with 5:04 left to make it 65-27.
Hampton cuts it to 68-37 on a Choicetta McMillian 3-pointer with 56 seconds left, effectively ending Duke's chances to double the Pirates' final score.
Thirteen seems to be the lucky number for Duke, as senior guard Keturah Jackson has a perfect shooting night (6-for-6 including a 3-pointer) for 13 points while Jasmine Thomas and Karima Christmas also add 13 apiece.
McMillian leads Hampton with nine points on 3-for-4 3-point shooting in 12 minutes off the bench.
Duke shoots 45.6 percent to 26.8 for Hampton, which goes 3-for-8 from the free-throw line to the Blue Devils' 16-for-33. The Blue Devils outrebound the Pirates 47-31, and commit 11 turnovers to the visitors' 16.
They said it:
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "It was a very good, strong game from everyone. I thought it was a total team focus and game, taking advantage of everything we could. Obviously we subbed a lot of people and played a lot of players and the intensity was maintained. We took care of the basketball, we shot the ball well and I thought we played some pretty good defense. It was really great to be back after being gone for several days, and we're very excited for the next game."
Hampton coach David Six: "We had a tremendous season. This means so much to this university and to the alumni. This (vocal support) is what our fans have done all season, and I expected the same today. What we have to do now is take the blueprint from the Dukes and the Tennessees and the UConns and understand that they started somewhere, too. Our goal is to bring this program to the day when Hampton University knows we're in (the NCAA Tournament) before we win the MEAC."
Jackson: "I think everyone was engaged and contributed. We were all in tune. Another word that can be used that goes along with focused is hungry. It helps our focus knowing that we're hungry and can't take any game for granted."
Thomas: "I think we started with a lot of energy (as did Hampton). I think we started too fast and were rushing things on offense. Eventually we settled down and got into the flow of the game and were able to get stops on defense. Then we came down and took our time and got some good shots on offense."
What does it all mean?
That Duke got some good momentum out of its first game in the tournament, and that Hampton will come back next season knowing what the NCAA Tournament is like should it repeat as MEAC champion.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Christmas' alley-oop layup from Thomas to make it 57-25 with 11:34 to go.
Duke leads 4-0.
Duke: Won 4.
Hampton: Lost 1.
Duke vs. LSU, Monday, 7 p.m.