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The Scholarly Spotlight March Madness Edition: Duke Blue Devils Women's Basketball

The Sweet 16 has begun, and the No.7 Duke Blue Devils drew a lot of attention when they defeated the No.2 Ohio State Buckeyes on March 24th. Reigan Richardson rose to the occasion and finished with 28 points. The upset got them into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018 and one step closer to the first NCAA championship in the program’s history. 

They have performed like an entirely different team in March Madness compared to their mediocre regular season, where they finished 22-11. Their execution has improved, and the entire team is moving faster on defense. Head Coach Kara Lawson was incredibly proud after the Ohio State victory because the Blue Devils were down by 16 points but fought their way back to avoid elimination. She highlighted their ability to persevere through the adversity in her post-game press conference. 

“ I just continue to be proud of our team, and we keep maturing even at this late stage in the season. We continue to grow, and we continue to trust each other,” Lawson said. “There was no better example of that than in the first half; I think we got down 16, and these guys never flinched.” 

As they move on to the third round of March Madness,  they will face the No. 3 UConn Huskies, led by Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards. The duo performed impressively against Syracuse in their second round matchup on March 25th. Bueckers scored 32 points while shooting 56%, and Edwards had a double-double. They are top-five draft prospects in their respective draft classes and have played outstanding all year. 

Huskies vs Blue Devils is scheduled for March 30th at 8:00 PM in the Moda Center, which will host all of the Portland 3 Bracket games. The USC Trojans and Baylor Bears are also scheduled that day at 5:30 PM. The winners of both matchups will play each other for a spot in the Final Four. Duke hasn’t appeared in the Elite Eight since 2013 and the Final Four since 2006. Depending on the results against the Huskies, the Blue Devils could have another difficult test against the Trojans or Bears. 

Juju Watkins is the best freshman in college basketball, regardless of gender. She has led the Trojans to an outstanding season so far and has guided them to their first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1994.

Baylor’s big three, Dre’una Edwards, Sara Andrews, and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, will give the Trojans a big test while the Blue Devils face the Huskies. Coach Lawson looks forward to the competition the Sweet 16 will bring, and she expressed her excitement in a press conference on Friday, March 29th. Coach Lawson believes their mid-game adjustments are the reason for their success in the tournament. 

“We can change things, go in and out of things, which is valuable when you're advancing because the teams that you play. Obviously, the degree of difficulty increases,” Lawson said. “You have to be able to change things. You can't play the same way all the time on players and teams.”

The tournament experience has brought the best out of the young Blue Devils, and they have exceeded expectations. Out of the 13 players on the team, 9 are first- and second-year students.  Their roster has a plethora of versatile scorers, like 3-point sharpshooters Ashlon Jackson and Delaney Thomas, who will be pivotal as they try to progress deeper into the tournament. 

"In the beginning, we had to keep things pretty simple in terms of our schemes. Now we're able to layer it more and be a little bit more complex,” said Lawson “That's good because they've shown the ability to be able to handle that. “

If the Blue Devils eliminate the Huskies, another upset would give them even more confidence. The Huskies are one of the favorites to win the tournament, and Fanduel Sportsbooks lists them as the 5th lowest betting underdog at +1600. Only time will tell if Lawson’s belief will be enough for the Blue Devils to succeed, and the world will witness either their failure or success. 


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