DURHAM, N.C. (AP)Kara Lawson has given her Duke players a simple message all season: Defend if you want to win, defend if you want to play.
It’s why the ninth-ranked Blue Devils have risen to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Reigan Richardson scored a season-high 14 points to lead the offense while Duke held Miami to 31.8% shooting in Sunday’s 50-40 win – the Blue Devils’ fourth straight.
Duke (22-3, 12-2) has focused on being a disruptive defensive team all season, entering Sunday ranked second behind only top-ranked South Carolina in scoring defense (50.7) and seventh nationally in field-goal percentage defense by holding opponents to 34.4%.
Two days after keeping Boston College to 27 points, Duke allowed 13 first-half points, led by 19 at halftime and then grinded through a lengthy offensive lapse late.
”I don’t have to give grand speeches every day about how important defense is,” Lawson said. ”They know it, and they know it’s been the key to the season. And I think success helps reinforce that.”
Richardson’s straightaway midrange jumper for a 49-34 lead with 7:27 left was Duke’s last field goal, but Duke had plenty of cushion to work with.
”When you’re losing, sometimes you might question whether this is the way to do it,” Lawson said. ”But when you’re having success, it helps you buy in even more because they love winning above all else. … And if defense is the way to win, then they want to do it. And that’s the key, finding players like that.”
Miami (16-9, 9-5) didn’t get the deficit into single digits until the final 35 seconds and finished nearly 30 points below its scoring average in league play (69.5).
Jasmyne Roberts scored 12 points to lead the Hurricanes, who have put themselves in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. But Miami couldn’t get anything going early, managing more turnovers (eight) than field goals (five) with nothing coming easily in a 13-point first half.
Miami coach Katie Meier called the first half ”a lot of immaturity.”
”Duke’s not going to let you do some stepback 1-on-1 thing and you celebrating it,” Meier said. ”It can’t be about you. It’s got to be about your teammates and you’ve got to make the game easier for your teammates to beat Duke. . And we were not thinking about our teammates, so we made the game harder for our teammates.”
Miami: The Hurricanes entered having won nine of 11 dating to the start of January, allowing them to dig out from a 7-6 start. Miami’s 5-for-21 first-half shooting was too much to overcome and the Hurricanes finished minus-5 on the boards after outrebounding their last five opponents by an average of 12.2 per game.
Duke: The Blue Devils have made a rapid climb under their third-year coach, who revamped the roster through the transfer portal. This win capped Duke’s first week in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 since 2017.
Richardson, an in-state McDonald’s All-American who transferred from Georgia, is a regular starter but had missed 24 of 29 3-pointers on the season.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore looked comfortable with a confident release Sunday, making 6 of 12 shots and 2 of 3 3-pointers. It was the first time she had hit multiple 3s in a game for Duke.
”I’ve been working on it every day after practice and just getting those extra reps in really improves my confidence,” Richardson said. ”They always tell me to look to shoot, and that’s what I did.”
That included one 3 immediately after Roberts made one to bring Miami within 14 midway through the third. Richardson knocked hers down from the wing near the Duke bench.
”I’m confident in her taking them when she’s in rhythm,” Lawson said.
Miami: Hosts Clemson on Thursday.
Duke: At No. 11 Virginia Tech on Thursday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25