DURHAM, N.C. (AP)Colorado and Duke rode their defense to strong regular seasons.
Now they’re picking up more confidence at the offensive end, coming off splendid shooting performances going into their NCAA Tournament second-round matchup Monday night.
“We know it’s crunch time, and I think everybody is really locked in and just focusing on their shots,” Duke guard Celeste Taylor said.
The third-seeded Blue Devils (26-6) broke away from offensive doldrums in a first-round rout of Iona on Saturday night. Sixth-seeded Colorado (24-8) sank a season-best 13 shots from 3-point range against Middle Tennessee.
It’s been five years since Duke has advanced to the Sweet 16, and even longer for Colorado – 20 years. The winner heads to the Seattle 4 Region.
The Buffaloes, who rate third defensively among Pac-12 teams, have become comfortable in Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Before this past game, we were talking about this gym being a shooter’s gym,” Colorado guard Kindyll Wetta said. “And Jaylyn (Sherrod) came up to me during one of the timeouts and was like, ‘It’s a shooter’s gym.’”
The Buffaloes were held to less than 50 points twice in their last five games before rolling past Middle Tennessee, 82-60.
Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team needs to be consistent “in our defensive discipline possession after possession after possession” and “try to make things difficult knowing that they have a number of players that can make hard shots.”
Duke had three consecutive games without reaching the 45-point mark, capped by a season-low total in a 58-37 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinal loss to Virginia Tech. And the Blue Devils have won seven games without scoring 60 points.
Shooting 58.5% from the field in the 89-49 blowout of Iona was an welcome upgrade.
“Obviously it boosted our confidence with that (offense),” Duke guard Reigan Richardson said.
Duke has held opponents to 50 or fewer points 17 times, which is more than half of the games its played this season. So naturally, the Blue Devils place an emphasis on defense.
“I like offense a lot, believe it or not,” Lawson said. “You may watch us play some games and not think I like offense, but I do. But as much as I like offense, I like winning more.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
Colorado has been to the Sweet 16 six times, but the Buffaloes have never won a second-round game away from home.
Duke has been a frequent host for the tournament’s opening week, though has lost two of its last three second-round home games, falling to DePaul in 2014 and to Oregon in 2017. Those defeats came as No. 2 seed. Duke has never dropped a second-round game while holding a No. 3 seed.
“This is a game to go to the Sweet 16,” Lawson said. “This is a severe cut. This might be the most severe cut in the tournament when you think about it. Like going from 32 to 16. Like there’s not any pretenders in the Sweet 16.”
Fifth-year Colorado guard Tayanna Jones is in her third season with the Buffaloes since transferring from Georgetown. She’s from Smithfield, North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Duke’s campus.
“It was a long ways from home for her to come to Colorado, but I think we just sort of made a good connection,” Buffaloes coach JR Payne said. “Really special to be here in her neck of the woods with her family just down the road.”
Jones, a starting guard, scored eight points in the Middle Tennessee game for her second-highest point production since before Christmas.
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