by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke tonight plays its last non-conference opponent before ACC play begins, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier.
The No. 3 Blue Devils will take on No. 10 Kentucky in an ESPNU contest that’s being pumped up as another twist on the schools’ storied but infrequently contested basketball rivalry. It's only their third meeting in women's basketball.
Duke comes in with a 13-0 record, while Kentucky is 11-1.
Even with students away on break there’s a big crowd in the house, with enough Kentucky presence behind the Wildcats’ bench to lead to some back-and-forth banter between the royal blue-clad cheering sections.
Duke gets the better of it, as Jasmine Thomas scores six of the final eight points of the game — all by the Blue Devils — in a 54-48 victory.
But from then on the defenses seem to take over. The Blue Devils are up 31-22 at the break, leading the rebound battle 31-10 to lead despite shooting 31.6 percent to Kentucky’s 36.4.
Duke comes out icy cold in the second half, hitting just one field goal over the first 11:43. And the Wildcats use the spell to make up the difference.
Kentucky takes the lead at 39-38 on a a Maegan Conwright layup with 8:47 to go, the first of five lead changes that go along with four ties in the second half.
The Wildcats take their biggest lead since the opening three minutes when A’Dia Mathies’ layup makes it 48-46 with 2:42 to go.
And then Jasmine Thomas goes to work. The senior guard blocks a Keyla Snowden jumper with 1:47 left, gets the rebound and hits the tying jumper from the free-throw line 14 seconds later.
With 59 seconds left Karima Christmas steals the ball from Snowden, and 21 seconds later Gray connects from about eight feet out on the left side, with Victoria Dunlap’s attempted block deflecting the ball into the hoop for what proves to be the winning bucket.
Jasmine Thomas hits a free throw with 15 seconds to go, then blocks Snowden’s 3-point attempt with eight seconds remaining with Chloe Wells grabbing the rebound for Duke.
With four seconds left there’s a technical on the Kentucky bench as Jasmine Thomas is fouled by Conwright, and she hits three of four free throws to end the scoring.
Jasmine Thomas finishes with a season-high 24 points and Gray 11 for Duke, on a night where there just isn’t much more scoring. Allison Vernerey grabbed 10 rebounds in a season-high 28 minutes.
Snowden leads Kentucky with 15 points followed by Dunlap with 10.
The stats aren’t pretty, as Duke shoots 26.5 percent to the visitors’ 39.1, making up for it by outrebounding the visitors 52-36 and committing 17 turnovers to UK’s 22.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “To get back into the habit of being so dominant on the boards was critical to us (and) to hold a team that averages 80 points to 48 is fantastic. This is kind of like a regional a little bit — a first game and a second game (against Maryland) on Thursday. Hopefully we can add some offense and start to get all cylinders operating. I thought Jasmine was incredible relative to her attack mode and what we needed offensively. I thought Chelsea played with a great deal of confidence. We have got to be able to do all things to be a very special team — rebound, play defense, score and attack.”
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell: “We can’t come into a quality team’s gym, as talented and as tough as Duke is, and play one half. That’s just so disappointing. From a coaching standpoint we tried to get prepared for the game and we clearly weren’t in the first half. Some were, but our success depends on everybody doing her part and we just didn’t get that for a complete 40 minutes. I’m still convinced we have the opportunity to be a very good team, but you’re not going to beat Duke playing one half of basketball.”
Jasmine Thomas: “I just wanted to keep attacking. I know my pull-up (jumper) has been good for me, but I was trying to get as far into the paint as I could and if I had to settle for the pull-up just take it. But defense was really what I was thinking about. There was a stretch where we weren’t defending the way we wanted to, myself included, getting beat off penetration. Down the stretch, every possession is so important.”
Gray: “I just really don’t know where (my last shot) came from. (Dunlap) just tipped it, and it was like ‘Oh, OK. Get back on defense.’ And Karima Christmas was just like, ‘That’s fine. Now get back on defense.’ I was kicking it to Alli, but (Dunlap) got a hand on it and it went up and through the rim.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke, which is as good as advertised from the start, will go into conference play with a perfect record. And that Kentucky is going to be a definite contender for the SEC championship.
Stars of the game
1. Jasmine Thomas.
Play of the game
Jasmine Thomas’ jumper from the stripe with 1:33 left following her blocked shot at the other end.
Duke leads 3-0.
Duke: Won 14.
Kentucky: Lost 1.
Duke vs. Maryland, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Kentucky at Arkansas, Thursday, 8 p.m.