by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke gets its biggest home challenge so far this season tonight.
The Blue Devils are ranked No. 3, their highest ever in the AP poll under fourth-year mentor Joanne P. McCallie, while Xavier comes in at No. 4.
Both teams are undefeated. They split a pair of long-ago meetings, but they haven’t faced off in 20 years.
Xavier is bigger than the Blue Devils, but Duke has great depth and has played a little tougher schedule, so it ought to be an interesting night.
It turns out to be all that, as Jasmine Thomas hits the winning free throw with 2.5 seconds left and then makes an incredible sprint down court to break a potential winning layup from Special Jennings in a 46-45 win.
Duke gets to a 10-3 lead at 16:35 of the first half on a Jasmine Thomas 3-pointer, but the Musketeers aren’t fazed.
Xavier goes ahead for the first time at 20-18 on Katie Rutan’s 3-pointer with 9:04 left in the half.
The visitors are up 28-25 at the break after a first period that includes five lead changes.
After Krystal Thomas’ layup makes it 28-27 with 19:27 left Xavier responds in a big way, taking a 36-27 lead on Special Jennings’ layup with 16:17 to go.
Jasmine Thomas answers with a jumper 16 seconds later and Duke comes back to tie it at 40 on Krystal Thomas’ layup from Shay Selby with 9:08 to go.
Jasmine Thomas hits a layup with 2:11 to play to chop Xavier’s lead to 45-42 and Karima Christmas cuts it to a point on a layup with 1:22 left. Krystal Thomas ties it by hitting the first of two free throws with 31 seconds remaining.
Jasmine Thomas comes up with a loose ball in the backcourt and drew a foul from Tyeasha Moss with 2.5 seconds left, then hits the second of two free throws to give Duke the lead before racing to block Jennings’ last-second layup attempt.
The victory is Duke’s 38th straight December win at home.
Jasmine Thomas leads the Blue Devils with 16 points, while Krystal Thomas added 10 points and eight rebounds. Xavier comes up just short despite 22 points and 15 rebounds from Amber Harris, while Ta’Shia Phillips had 19 rebounds and eight points.
Duke wins despite shooting 27 percent from the floor to Xavier’s 38.0 and being outrebounded 51-37. But the Blue Devils commit just 12 turnovers to a whopping 30 for Xavier.
They said it …McCallie: ““That is truly one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in 19 years of coaching. Of course they got it deflected out, which was of course a tremendous benefit to them, and all of a sudden you see this lightning bolt come out of nowhere to break a great shot. That was the most professional block I’ve ever seen, and Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) can just step back on that one.”
Xavier coach Kevin McGuff: ““I don’t know where Thomas came from. I saw that last play differently than (the officials), clearly. But that’s the way it goes. It was a tough one for us to lose, but I’m just really proud of our effort.”
Jasmine Thomas: ““After the free throw, I thought they would try to inbound it as fast as they could so I took the closest guard to me. When I saw the ball go up and take about five years to come down I just looked and no one was back there, so I just knew someone had to sprint back. Whether it was a foul or a block it had to be done.”
Krystal Thomas: “It was amazing, the fact that she was able to get back there and get that block. I had to get it together, but it was pretty amazing.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke can beat just about anyone in the country, that Jasmine Thomas should be on the list for casting the new Wonder Woman, and that Xavier has a darn good team that might make the Final Four.
Stars of the game
1. Jasmine Thomas.
3. Krystal Thomas.
Play of the game
Jasmine Thomas’ game-saving blocked shot.
Duke: Won 12.
Xavier: Lost 1.
Xavier at Stanford, Dec. 28, 4 p.m.
Duke vs. Temple, Dec. 30, 7 p.m.