PROVO, Utah (AP)—Duke got an early season test in a tough road environment and passed.
The Blue Devils had to deal with a determined BYU team playing inspired basketball in front of a larger-than-usual home crowd letting its voice be heard. It’s just the atmosphere the team knows it needs to get used to before facing a slate of tough ACC foes later in the season.
“That’s what it’s going to be like every time on the road,” said sophomore guard Chelsea Gray, who scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half and added a career-high six steals to lead the No. 8 Blue Devils to a 61-55 victory over BYU.
Gray made several huge plays to help the Blue Devils (1-0) stay one step ahead of the Cougars (0-1) down the stretch. She scored a pair of baskets, assisted on another and made 3-of-4 free throws during the final 4 1/2 minutes of the game.
Haley Peters added 12 points and Chloe Wells chipped in 10 for Duke, who will face Auburn in the team’s home opener next Friday.
Duke used intense defensive pressure to escape with a victory. The Blue Devils pressured the ball early and often to set up multiple baskets in transition. As a team, Duke scored a total of 24 points off 22 BYU turnovers.
“We like to attack,” Duke coach Joanie McCallie said. “We like to be aggressive. Broken plays are a lot of fun.”
It offset a strong effort senior point guard Haley Steed produced for the Cougars. Steed finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds, although she also had 10 turnovers. Kim Parker added 14 points and six rebounds for BYU.
“I’m proud of my team,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “Duke is a very well coached, experienced, athletic team. I thought this year’s team was better than last year’s team. They’re athletic in every position and deep. My team didn’t quit. We’ve really learned as a team what our future is. If we play with that energy and intensity we can beat a lot of people.”
The Blue Devils took advantage of poor shooting and turnovers by BYU to break off extended runs at two different points in the first half. Each time, the Cougars clawed their way back to keep Duke from turning it into a blowout.
After BYU took a 7-5 lead on a jumper from Dani Peterson, Wells hit a 3-pointer and ignited an 11-0 run to put Duke ahead 16-7. BYU pulled to within four after Stephanie Vermunt and Parker scored baskets on consecutive possessions.
The Blue Devils responded with a 7-0 run—capped by a fastbreak layup from Wells after she swiped the ball from Parker—to make it 23-12 in favor of Duke. Once again, BYU had an answer. Freshman guard Xojian Harry came off the bench and scored eight straight points—including back-to-back 3-pointers—to pull the Cougars to within three at 23-20.
It was enough to keep BYU within striking distance of the Blue Devils. The Cougars continued to chip away at the lead and charged ahead of Duke at last when Steed buried a 3-pointer to put BYU up 32-29 with 15:43 left in the second half.
Duke never got rattled in those moments when they had plenty of reasons to question if an upset was truly brewing.
“Each time we had a break, we huddled and - in the huddle - tried to keep our composure,” Gray said.
It worked. The Blue Devils finally strung together a run that BYU could not answer when they ran off eight straight points - punctuated by a 3-pointer from Peters - to take a 42-36 lead with 8:05 remaining.
Just like in the first half, the Cougars tried to rally from the deficit. BYU’s efforts fell short because Gray came up with one big play after another.
After BYU twice pulled to within three points, the sophomore guard produced baskets on the other end to give Duke some extra breathing room. Gray fed the ball to Peters for a driving layup and made three free throws in the final minute to prevent any last second upset from materializing.
One mark in the win column feels nice to start off the season. McCallie knows it will take an improved effort in the weeks ahead to keep the momentum going.
“We’re definitely a work in progress,” McCallie said.