Duke and Virginia leaned heavily on upperclassmen in Thursday night’s ACC battle. The Blue Devils turned to graduate student Haley Gorecki, while the Cavaliers relied on seniors Dominique Toussaint and Jocelyn Willoughby.
In the end, the Cavaliers’ seniors did just enough to help UVa prevail with a 66-63 victory over Duke (7-8, 1-3 ACC). It wasn’t easy to overcome the hot-shooting Gorecki, who finished with 27 points, but UVa (6-9, 1-3 ACC) ended the game on a 15-4 run to end its four-game losing streak and earn its first ACC win of the season.
“It feels really, really good to get that silverback gorilla off of our back,” Virginia head coach Tina Thompson said.
Virginia started slowly, trailing 4-2 through the first five minutes of the game. Eventually, Toussaint and Willoughby helped pick up the pace offensively for the Cavaliers. The duo finished the game with 39 combined points. Willoughby carried the load, scoring 24.
The duo combined for 10 first-quarter points as UVa opened up a 14-8 lead in the first 10 minutes. Both Toussaint and Willoughby were aggressive in seeking their own shots in the lane, which led to a few easy baskets.
Toussaint also crashed the glass and hit the deck, diving for a loose ball to keep a possession alive that eventually led to a Virginia basket.
The senior guard kept at it in the second quarter, nailing a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes. She then added a layup to give UVa a commanding 22-8 lead.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, sloppy play kept them from increasing their lead and pulling away. Virginia turned the ball over 14 times in the first half, as Duke made a run to cut into the lead.
Led by Gorecki, who scored 10 points in the opening 20 minutes, the Blue Devils ended the half on a 16-8 run to only trail 30-24.
UVa did pressure the ball well, forcing an astounding 17 turnovers from the Blue Devils in the first 20 minutes.
Duke, which averages 18.3 turnovers per game, committed 28 turnovers on the night, and UVa freshman Shemera Williams finished with a career-high nine steals.
The third quarter was all Duke, though. After struggling with turnovers in the first half, the Blue Devils scored 24 points in the quarter, matching their first-half total.
With the game knotted at 38 and 2:55 remaining in the third quarter, Gorecki nailed a 3-pointer. A foul was called away from the ball, giving Duke the ball back. Gorecki knocked down another 3-pointer just 20 seconds later.
Duke held Virginia to 13 points in the third quarter and took a 48-43 lead into the final period.
Both teams traded blows in the final quarter, and 3-pointers proved to be critical. Gorecki hit one early in the quarter to give the Blue Devils a 51-46 lead. Miela Goodchild buried another to give Duke a 56-51 lead with 3:59 remaining, and Mikayla Boykin scored on a 3-point play off a steal to give the Blue Devils a 59-51 lead.
Then UVa rallied.
The Wahoos finished the game strong, and a Willoughby 3-pointer from the corner in front of her bench tied the game at 59 with 1:41 remaining.
“In the moment, I’m not thinking about the score or the time too much,” Willoughby said. “It’s a shot that I practice.”
After a stop, a beautiful feed from Toussaint at the top of the key set up Carole Miller’s layup under the left side of the basket. Toussaint finished the game with eight turnovers, but she made the perfect decision in the final minute. UVa led 61-59 with 51 seconds remaining.
“I think a lot of times my turnovers come from either me going too slow — meaning I’m telegraphing the pass — or going too fast or it just slips out of my hand,” Toussaint said. “I think that pass was just right in the sweet spot, where I saw the game, I saw how the defense was moving, and I knew that she was gonna be open.”
Duke had a chance to tie the game at 63 in the final 10 seconds, but a 3-pointer came up well short. Virginia held on for the victory, although Duke added a 3-point shot in the final second to keep the final score tight.
“Really, really proud of the effort from start to finish by our team,” Thompson said. “First few games, we’d go up or we’d have a lead, and then when we went behind we would then kind of hang our heads and take ourselves out of it a little bit … we didn’t do that tonight.”