The young Vanderbilt Commodores have taken down Oklahoma and Tennessee at Memorial Gym this season, and they faced second-seeded Duke with a heat wave making Memorial Gym steamy for an extra edge.
They grabbed the first six rebounds of the game and matched Duke bucket for bucket for a brief stretch. Then the Commodores quit talking on defense, and Duke wound up routing them 96-80 Tuesday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"We were just frozen at times," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "When we were supposed to trap the ball screens, we rotated but were late. We just looked frozen. You saw us not anticipating like we usually do defensively, and I think that's caused by fear."
Vanderbilt (23-10) now misses the regional semifinals for a third straight season and fell to 14-2 in the NCAA tournament in games played at Memorial Gym.
Christina Foggie, the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer, tried to reel Duke back in. She had 16 of her 26 points in the second half. Jasmine Lister added 16, Elan Brown 13 and Stephanie Holzer had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Commodores did score a season-high 80 points against Duke. It just wasn't enough as the Blue Devils (26-5) shot a season-high 65.6 percent overall (42 of 64) and 7 of 11 outside the arc. All five Duke starters scored in double figures led by Haley Peters' career-high 25, while Tricia Liston tied her career-best with 23.
"They shot the lights out," Balcomb said.
The good part for Vanderbilt is that this is a young team. Foggie is just a sophomore, and all starters will return.
"Defense is important, and you win games with defense," Foggie said. "I think that is one thing we have to focus on."
Elizabeth Williams had 13, and Chelsea Gray had 12 points and her 12 assists to set a Duke record in the NCAA tournament. Shea Selby also had 12.
"My teammates were doing an excellent job moving without the basketball so I mean it was kind of in the flow of our offense, and they were just getting to the open spots and knocking it down," Gray said. "So I was really proud of how they were moving around without the ball."
Advancing to Fresno was a big goal once the bracket was announced to take Gray back close to her Stockton, Calif., home. Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said the Blue Devils already have a chant and can't wait to visit In-N-Out Burger. Gray said she's already asked for tickets.
Not even Memorial Gym, the Southeastern Conference's oldest gym with no air conditioning, gave seventh-seeded Vanderbilt any help on a night the temperature reached 90 by halftime.
The only thing hotter was Duke's shooting.
"We had the deer in the headlight look, which I just didn't think we would have at home," Balcomb said.
The Commodores were trying to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2009, and they had Foggie in addition to the nation's sixth-best shooting team in the nation, averaging 46.4 percent.
The Blue Devils routed Samford by 35 in the first round. They didn't reach that against Vanderbilt, the 19th-winningest program in NCAA history making its 25th appearance in this tournament.
It just felt that bad as the Duke band chanted "Overrated" in the final minutes.
Duke also had 11 steals in forcing Vanderbilt into 18 turnovers that Duke turned into a 28-14 scoring advantage. With their size, the Blue Devils also dominated in the paint 46-30 with so many easy layups and short jumpers.
The Commodores' lone lead came at 14-13 on a 3-pointer by Foggie with 14:49 left in the first half, and Gray answered back with a 3 to put Duke ahead to stay.
Peters hit seven of her first eight shots in scoring 15 of Duke's first 27 points. She credited Williams for drawing double-teams in the paint and teammates for getting her the ball.
Once Liston scored on a layup, the Blue Devils connected on 13 of 17 shots. They came out of a timeout with Gray hitting a jumper for the ninth straight good basket. Gray's bucket made it 31-20 with 9:48 left, and Duke led by as much as 26 on back-to-back 3s by Gray and Liston late in the half. Only a pair of 3s by Brown trimmed the lead to 56-32 by halftime.
Vanderbilt got within 65-46 on a 3 by Foggie with 13:26 left. Peters scored, and Vanderbilt only managed to whittle down the score in the final three minutes as Duke coasted to the win.