GREENSBORO, North Carolina—The Duke women’s basketball Instagram account posted a video on Tuesday in which Shayeann Day-Wilson confidently declared “0-0. New season.”
When the dust settled after a last-minute whirlwind at Greensboro Coliseum in the first round of the ACC Women’s Tournament on Wednesday, it turned out there was some truth to that proclamation as the Blue Devils picked up a 55-52 win over a resilient Pittsburgh. .
And poetically, the declarer turned out to be a difference maker.
Day-Wilson had a few days as perfect as anyone could hope for — the ACC Rookie of the Year honor as decided by conference coaches Tuesday, 22 points including two crucial buckets on the stretch and a firm blow from the demoralizing losing streak Duke endured before. A 28-point hammering at the hands of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Sunday sent the Blue Devils to Greensboro reeling, but by sheer willpower and icy veins, head coach Kara Lawson’s tough Torontonian sent his team back to flat ground.
“Anyone who has seen us play this year knows how Shy [Day-Wilson] has been to our success,” Lawson said. “She plays with great competitiveness and she’s a two-way player, she keeps on the defensive side, she scores on the offensive side, she’s able to pass and she’s not afraid.”
The last 1h47 of a tournament match leaves no room for fear. When a game gets tight, a team needs confidence and boldness. Day-Wilson was both.
Tied at 48 with just over two minutes to play, the competition was on the edge. Pittsburgh’s shots were still falling fairly frequently and Duke couldn’t quite take control of a game they had been dominating since the halftime buzzer. At a time when Duke was on the verge of a humiliating loss to the worst team in the ACC, the freshmen stepped forward to dispel the uncertainty.
“The work hasn’t stopped,” Day-Wilson said. “I just have to stay locked in and keep my team to get the wins.”
A flawless pull-up pull-up and clutch trey, celebrated with a wink at the camera, later, and Duke was finally back on the winning streak.
However, she wasn’t the only one to weigh in on her team. Fellow freshman Lee Volker made her first start of the season in place of Elizabeth Balogun and carried the Blue Devils effort around the glass throughout, posting eight rebounds, split evenly between offensive and defensive glass.
The Virginia native is an alumnus of historic basketball talent factory St. Paul VI — the same high school with Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach on the men’s team — but has seen hard-to-find minutes and influence in the first weeks of the year. When it counted, however, she appeared. Although Duke didn’t win their game against Boston College late last month, Volker ran relentlessly and chased the Eagles’ offensive weapons, earning Lawson’s praise and confidence at the press conference. post-game, which praised his defensive abilities and bouncing dominance. .
When Duke left the floor victorious on Wednesday, Volker was the last to pass Lawson, who embraced her with a smile and a pat on the back. Safe to say, his trainer’s faith was rewarded.
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Back in November, as we all speculated about this season and predicted Duke’s record in Lawson’s first full season with the team, our eyes first turned to high-profile transfers, program veterans and first year returnees. We saw Elizabeth Balogun as the defensive centerpiece, Celeste Taylor as the offensive powerhouse, and Vanessa de Jesus as the program’s definitive point guard. They are all fantastic players, of course, but at the critical moment it was the new blue blood who rose to the challenge.
“[I’m] really proud of our band,” Lawson said. “Winning games in this league is not easy. It has not been easy for us all year.
This Tuesday Instagram post seemed at first glance a sad indictment of a program in need of a rebound and rebranding after a series of identity-shattering and morale-crushing losses. On closer inspection and thanks in large part to his freshman phenoms, he now seems more of a rallying cry to end a trying year on a high.
Assuming Day-Wilson’s logic, the team is now 1-0 and this “new season” is off to an encouraging start. The tricky part, as always, is making sure it stays that way. Duke has a chance to keep the momentum going Thursday at 6 p.m. against Miami.