by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke has made a habit of getting to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 in recent years, failing to get there just once since 1997.
The opponent is No. 7 seed Oklahoma State (22-10), which will try to stop the Blue Devils from a date with No. 6 seed Nebraska on Sunday in Norfolk, Va.
It’s not an easy assignment for the fifth-ranked Blue Devils, since the Cowgirls play in the tough Big XII and are used to this kind of atmosphere.
It turns out not to be an easy game at all. But Duke engineers its best comeback in years, recovering from a 15-point deficit just after halftime to eliminate the Cowgirls 68-59.
Duke has a terrible shooting first half, going 9-for-30 from the floor to trail 34-21 at intermission. The Cowgirls get that lead on a long 3-pointer from Tiffany Bias with nine ticks left before the break.
But the comeback awaits.
OSU goes up 36-21 on a Brittney Martin jumper at 19:48 before Duke rallies big-time.
Elizabeth Williams hits a jumper to cut it to 36-33 with 15:18 to go, but the Cowgirls take it back to 49-40 on a Kendra Suttles jumper with 9:42 to go.
Duke keeps coming, as Tricia Liston scores a three-point play with 6:04 remaining to make it 51-49, then hits a 3-pointer with 5:31 to go to give the Blue Devils their first lead since 4-2.
The Blue Devils seal the deal in the final minute, going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Williams leads Duke with 16 points and 12 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season, while Haley Peters adds 15 points and 13 rebounds for her ninth. Chloe Wells comes off the bench for 13 points — 10 in the second half — while Liston also has 13, eight over the final 6:04.
Liz Donohoe paces the Cowgirls with 14 points, followed by freshman Brittney Martin with 13, Toni Young with 12 and Bias 11.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “The only time I was concerned was when I was sitting on the couch before going in to talk to them (at halftime), to really think about what I wanted to say.I was trying to read them and understand exactly why we were in that position. And I talked to my assistants about it. As a coach, there are things you’re very upset about — layups, for example, transition defense. But I elected to not go there. I dropped the first half and said ‘This is what it is. This is what we’re going to do. We don’t have a lot of experience (with a big deficit.”
OSU coach Jim Littell: “I thought we played outstanding for the most part. (But) we made some mistakes taking care of the ball and made some mistakes defensively, and good teams make you pay for that. Duke played extremely well in the second half. I don’t think it’s necessarily anything we did wrong. We just ran out of gas tonight.”
Peters: “I think people were challenging each other to step up in the locker room. We wanted to make sure we were fighting together. We talked about setting goals at halftime for each media timeout, but also recognized it started at the defensive end. That’s when Coach came in and told us we were just setting ourselves up for a big comeback. We knew we played a bad first half, but we couldn’t focus on that.”
Wells: “I think our performance was a testament to all that we’ve been through as a team. Chelsea (Gray, out for the season) has been hurt, I’ve been hurt. Richa (Jackson) has been hurt. (But) when we go down everybody is still on the same page, and I think tonight we showed that more than anything.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke put together its best comeback in a very long time, will be favored in its next game and has a chance to get to the Final Four without running into Brittney Griner or Connecticut.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Peters’ layup from Wells to give Duke the lead for good at 54-53 with 4:02 to go.
Duke: Won 6.
OSU: Lost 1.
Duke leads 4-0.
Duke vs. No. 6 seed Nebraska, Sunday, time TBA, in Norfolk, Va.