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Akinbode-James’ double-double propels Duke women’s basketball at Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis.—For the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Duke headed north looking to become the first program to 10 wins in the series.

The Blue Devils did just that, defeating the Badgers 60-53 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. Duke was led by freshman forward Onome Akinbode-James, who posted her first career double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds on 6-of-12 shooting from the field. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils prevented Wisconsin from dominating inside, outscoring the Badgers in the paint 40-28 and outrebounding them 37-32.

“We wanted to get a plus-10 [rebounding] margin and we did not quite accomplish that,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “But [we] definitely [had] better rebounding, better pursuit of the ball and we got better today as a group.”

Both teams struggled to score the ball in the opening minutes of the first quarter. Nevertheless, Wisconsin was able to jump out to an 8-1 lead in the first four minutes by doing what it does best—scoring inside. The Badgers’ first four buckets all came in the paint. Meanwhile, Duke was not able to convert a field goal until a layup courtesy of Akinbode-James halfway through the period.

The Blue Devils (4-3) were plagued by eight turnovers in the quarter, ranging from charges to travels to double-dribbles. Nevertheless, Duke was able to outrebound the Badgers 16-8 over the first 10 minutes and used a 6-2 run following the media timeout to cut Wisconsin’s advantage to 10-9.

In the second-quarter, the Blue Devils finally seemed to find their offensive rhythm. After shooting only 4-for-14 in the first-quarter, Duke hit nine of its 15 shots in the second period to bolt out to a 30-19 edge. Akinbode-James made three of those buckets, bringing her point total to eight to go along with 11 rebounds before halftime.

“My teammates found me,” Akinbode-James said. “I got a lot of shots up so I cannot really complain about that. And I focused on rebounding—that was the main focus going into this game.”

Overall, the Blue Devils outscored the Badgers 20-14 in the paint and grabbed 24 rebounds, including 14 on the offensive end, to Wisconsin’s 15 total boards over the first 20 minutes. Guard Haley Gorecki struggled, though, scoring only four points on 2-of-10 shooting in the first-half.

The second-half started slowly, with only three total field goals making up the first five minutes of the third-quarter. A 10-4 run by the Badgers to end the period, though, cut Duke’s edge to single-digits heading into the final 10 minutes. From there, however, it was all Blue Devils.

Duke made its first eight shots of the closing period, stretching its lead back up to 18 at one point and putting any hopes of a Wisconsin comeback to bed. Overall, the Blue Devils were able to limit the Badgers (6-2) to only 3-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc, a great improvement from a 3-point defense that entered the contest ranked 248th in the country. 

“I think that was one of the positives of the game—defensive intensity,” McCallie said. “I thought the team did a great job switching up defenses and maintaining the same intensity when we did. They have some nice shooters—it was nice to try to take away looks or make the looks rushed.”

Although Gorecki was never able to break out of her slump—finishing with only 14 points on 5-of-17 from the field and 1-of-6 from three—she was able to score 10 points in the final quarter to help Duke close out the game. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was led by forward Marsha Howard’s 17 points and 10 boards in addition to 11 points from fellow forward Imani Lewis.

“I want to say that Haley’s second-half is all what Haley’s about,” McCallie said. “Tremendous [leadership] in terms of attacking the basket and leading her team.”

Next, the Blue Devils return to Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time in two weeks to battle Marist Sunday at 2 p.m.

“There is a much higher level that we can play,” McCallie said. “We are going to find it and we are going to use this game to help us to take us to the next level.”

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