The final margin of 21 points doesn't reflect the nature of the game. "Anyone who saw the game understands that the score is not indicative of the game that was played; it was much closer than that," said Duke Coach Gail Goestenkors after the game.
For about 31 minutes of the game, the two teams were dead even. Duke opened the scoring for the contest with two 3-pointers, one by Abby Waner and another by Lindsey Harding, to take a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
From that point on, for the rest of the half, the teams played fairly evenly, with Vanderbilt occasionally threatening to close the gap, and Duke occasionally threatening to run away with it. But when halftime arrived, the net result was that the Blue Devils had increased their lead by just one point to a seven-point halftime lead at 29-22.
Baskets by Thomas and Tina Wirth cut the lead down to just three points at 29-26 to start the second half. But it didn't take long for Duke to counter, and five minutes into the second half, a couple of free throws by Carrem Gay gave the Blue Devils a double-digit lead at 37-26.
But once again the 'Dores wouldn't go away. After Wirth hit another jumper, Jen Risper, who was back on the court following arthroscopic surgery last week, hit an improbable off-balance shot as the shot clock was about to expire. Then Thomas scored after grabbing an offensive rebound. The 6-0 run brought the 'Dores back to within five points.
And so the game continued, one team punching, then the other team counter-punching. With 7:24 left in the game, a layup by Liz Sherwood made the score 44-38, once again making it a 6-point game, just what it had been 30 minutes earlier.
Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, however, games are 40 minutes long. The first two minutes of the game started the Blue Devils off on the right foot, but for the 'Dores, the game unraveled in those last few minutes.
With six minutes left, the Duke lead crept up to 11 points but a pair of free throws by Thomas cut the lead back to single digits at 49-40.
Then, incredibly, Duke scored eight points on a single possession. It began when Wanisha Smith scored on a layup and Caroline Williams was charged with an intentional foul. There was some confusion on the court as to why the intentional foul didn't negate the basket. When Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb stepped out onto the court to get an explanation, she was tagged with a technical foul, which resulted in two more Duke free throws. Because of the technical, the Blue Devils also got the possession of the ball after the free throw, and Waner sank a 3-pointer.
Thus, with just 11 seconds off the clock, a 9-point game morphed into a 17-point game. Afterwards, the officiating crew (Joe Cunningham, Lawson Newton, and June Corteau) issued this statement to explain the rulings:
Question: Why did the basket count?
Answer: The offensive player was deemed to be in the act of shooting as defined by Rule 4 Section 67 Article 2.
Question: Why did the intentional foul not negate the basket?
Answer: The intentional foul does not negate the basket or attempt because a live ball does not become dead when a foul is committed by an opponent of a player who starts a try for a goal before a foul occurs. (Rule 6 Section 6 Article 2.
After that, Vanderbilt couldn't climb back out of the hole, and by the end of the game, the Blue Devil's margin of victory had grown to 21 points at 69-48.
"I don't think the game was won or lost on that play," said Balcomb after the game. "We had a lot of chances to do a lot of things all game. That was a tough situation for us, obviously, but I don't think the game was one or lost on that play. I don't believe a game is ever won or lost on one play."
Many of those chances came on the boards, as the Blue Devils out-rebounded by Commodores 41-26.
"We shoot 50-some percent from the field, and we get in a really bad habit of not crashing the boards, so then when you shoot 33% against a good defense, you don't go crash the boards because you think the ball's going in," said Balcomb. "So that's obviously one of the things that we learned from this game, that we really need to work on that."
The next ten days will provide the opportunity. Thursday was the last day of classes for the fall semester, and exams will begin on Saturday. During the exam period, the 'Dores will practice, but they will not have any more games until December 17 when they travel to Tampa to play the University of South Florida.
The next home game for the 'Dores will be the opening game of the Holiday Classic on December 20, when they will play Lipscomb University at 7 p.m.
Vanderbilt's Caroline Williams (33) tries to steal the ball from Duke's Bridgette Mitchell (15) in the second half of a college basketball game on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006, in Durham, N.C. Duke won, 69-48, over Vanderbilt. (AP Photo/Sara D. Davis)