Azura Stevens played some of her best basketball of the season for almost 40 minutes on Sunday, and freshman classmate Rebecca Greenwell had a stellar second half.
The freshmen combined for 39 points – 22 with 10 rebounds from Stevens and 17 from Greenwell including 14 after the break – as No. 4 seed Duke topped a solid No. 5 seed Mississippi State 64-56 in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
So the 23-10 Blue Devils are going back to a regional, something they missed last season with a second-round loss at home after four straight appearances in the Elite Eight.
They’ll play Saturday in Spokane, Wash., against either No. 1 seed and former ACC member Maryland or No. 8 seed Princeton, which finished the regular season undefeated.
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Seniors Elizabeth Williams added 12 points and Ka’lia Johnson 10 in their final home game as Duke won for the 20th time in its last 21 NCAA tournament games at Cameron. Greenwell and Williams each played 38 minutes.
“What a great game and a great second half for our team,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I was proud of our energy and focus. Elizabeth was steady and aggressive, and she owned the paint. I guess I forgot that I never took Azura out, but she was absolutely fantastic.
“And Becca was just ready as usual. She was in attack mode, and the three of them were outstanding.”
Victoria Vivians finished with 15 points, Kendra Grant 12 and Morgan William 11 for Mississippi State, which finished 27-7. Guard Dominique Dillingham had 10 rebounds with six points.
“The kid that beat us is Azura Stevens,” said third-year Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, whose team owns the school’s single-season victory mark. “You show me another team in the country that’s got a 6-5 ‘three’ player. She posted us up.
“We held Greenwell to one shot in the first half, and in the second half we lose her to start the half, but then we get back hold of her.”
Duke shot 52.2 percent to the visitors’ 30.5 percent and dominated the boards 42-31. The Blue Devils committed 17 turnovers to the Bulldogs’ 11.
“I think I just realize who’s guarding me,” said Stevens, the Cary High alumna, who had her 10th double-double of the season. “If there’s a shorter girl on me, I can post her up and my teammates do a good job of getting me the ball. If there’s a bigger girl, I can bring her out and go around her. My teammates help me by finding me in the right places to score.”
Mississippi State led 28-24 at halftime, and 37-34 with 14:40 left when forward Kendall Cooper, one of only two Blue Devil substitutes on Sunday, ended up under Williams when both fell out of bounds under the Mississippi State basket. Cooper screamed in pain and was helped to the locker room favoring her right knee.
Duke responded with a 23-6 run to make it 57-43 before Cooper re-entered the game with 4:55 left.
“I think I’m probably immune (to injury panic),” McCallie said. “I looked out and there was a part of me that wanted to go out there with her, but I said to myself, ‘No, I’m not doing that right now.’ I did the opposite. I called the team over and said ‘Let’s go’ and started barking at them for things, just as a means of distraction to allow her to leave.”
Greenwell said Duke just had to play harder and smarter over the final 20 minutes.
“We really tried to come out in the second half with an attack mentality, but also with a high IQ,” Greenwell said. “I think that really showed and helped us go on some good runs.”
Williams said she’s just happy her final game at Cameron was an important victory.
“It was just ‘survive and advance,’” Williams said. “We’re excited to keep playing. I just love my teammates and love playing here, so it was nice to get a win.”