DURHAM, N.C. -- Playing a young and undersized team in its first NCAA tournament, Duke didn't look all that dominant or inspired until a furious Joanne P. McCallie lit into her players during an "aggressive" halftime talk.
The immediate result was what the coach wanted: a dominating second half in Saturday's 90-45 first-round win against Tennessee-Martin. She'll have to wait to learn if the Blue Devils will carry that edge through the rest of the tournament.
Three double-digit seeds provided the fireworks on the opening day of the women's NCAA tournament. ESPN's women's college basketball team wraps up Day 1. Story
"They played a great 20 minutes of basketball and they know it," McCallie said. "And they know that's not what it's about going beyond, going to the higher level. So I feel they'll be motivated to do better, to play better and come out of the blocks better next time. I feel that in them as a group."Jasmine Thomas scored 18 points to lead the Blue Devils (30-3), the No. 2 seed in the Philadelphia Regional. Duke won its 24th straight game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home court where the Blue Devils are opening the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.It also marked the 18th straight year Duke has won its tournament opener, sending the Blue Devils to face 10th-seeded Marist in the second round Monday night.Still, while McCallie could savor what went right after halftime, she couldn't ignore the things what didn't before the break. Duke didn't defend well, particularly against penetration from the 15th-seeded Skyhawks' small, quick guards. It also let a team with only two regular-rotation players standing taller than 6 feet fight to a draw on the boards against a team that stands 6-5, 6-5 and 6-0 across its starting front line.Duke led 41-31 at the break."I was so mad about how we were playing, I wasn't going to make a change," McCallie said. "Deal with it, let's go. Sometimes you can overcoach this game. That was a point to get across to them -- the reality was we weren't doing what we should be doing."Duke opened the second half with nine straight points to blow the game open against the Skyhawks (21-11), who managed just 14 points total in the second half."It's important to realize it only gets harder," Jasmine Thomas said. "Every game, you have to bring more energy and more focus and be ready for the competition to get better."The Skyhawks were a bit of a novelty for this weekend's tournament games in Durham. Duke was making its 17th straight appearance, while Iowa State and Marist had gone five and six straight years, respectively.
Second-year coach Kevin McMillan admitted his team -- with four freshman starters -- was a bit "shell-shocked" by the prospect of playing the Blue Devils at their famed on-campus arena in their first NCAA tournament game.Duke probably didn't help matters by scoring on its first five possessions, though the school best known as Hall of Fame Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's alma mater stayed within reach.The Blue Devils came out of halftime looking like the more experienced and physically superior team, though, holding UT Martin without a basket for the first 4 minutes and 5-for-19 shooting (26 percent) in the second half."Once the snowball got rolling, it was gone," McMillan said. "We didn't have much of an answer. When the snowball was rolling, we just jumped right in the middle of it. Our arms were flailing, and it looked like we were rolling down a big hill. I think that the first half was a testament to what our kids can do, and I thought the second half was a testament to what Duke can do."