DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke Sophomore center Elizabeth Williams will be taking all her friend’s home this weekend.
They will be heading home to the Tidewater area of Virginia for the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship at the Ted Constant Center in Norfolk.
Williams, a first team All-ACC performer and two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year helped to lead her Blue Devils to a 68-59, come-from-behind win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Williams played her high school basketball at Princess Anne in Virginia Beach where she led her club to State AAA titles in 2009 and 2011 and was named first team Parade All-America in 2010 and 2011 and the 2011 Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year. She also graduated as a member of the Honor Roll; Principal’s List and earned a 4.19 grade point average.
“It’s so exciting to bring my teammates to where I am from and to be able to play at home,” exclaimed a very happy Williams following the game. “I think it is going to be pretty cool to play in front of my high school coach and all the people who supported me throughout high school. I’m excited.”
While it may be exciting now, the Devils looked like they would be staying home this weekend instead of heading up the road to Norfolk. In the first half they couldn’t do anything right as they trailed by 13 points 34-21, making just nine shots from the floor.
On the flip side the Cowgirls of Oklahoma State were hot as a pistol. Shooting 46.7 percent from the floor, hitting 14-of-30 shots and just flat outplaying the nation’s No. 5 ranked team.
“This team has never been down and been able to come back, I mean never,” explained Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “And certainly we’ve never been down by 13 at halftime of any game. It was all a new experience and I’m glad we could have a new experience because it will bode well for this year and years to come.”
The all-star center from Virginia Beach was having the roughest of nights. Williams, who came into the game averaging a team-leading 15.5 points, had just four points at the half, hitting on two-of-six shots from the floor and turning the ball over five times.
Williams and the Devils had to make a move in the second half in order to continue their season.
“It’s was pretty tough,” explained Williams. “But I trust and support my teammates and we have a great deal of confidence in each other and sometimes when things aren’t going right we know someone else will step up. I think we realized in the second half that we weren’t getting the stops we needed to get. Our shots will fall eventually, that is just the way the game goes sometimes.”
After trailing by 13 at the half, the Blue Devils quickly started making stops and putting the ball in the basket. At the 15:15 mark of the second half, Williams banked the ball off the glass and into the basket and the score was suddenly 36-33 in favor of the Cowgirls. The Blue Devils in the first five minutes of the second half outscored Oklahoma State 12-2.
“We held each other accountable and as a group set goals,” explained Williams about how the Devils handled the comeback. “At each time out we set goals to cutting into their lead, looking toward each other to fight together.”
A couple of three pointers by the Cowgirls and the Devils were back behind by five points. The initial comeback had worked and gotten them back into the game. Something serious needed to happen to keep the Devils undefeated in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the season.
“I think at that point, just great time and score execution, getting the ball in various spots,” explained McCallie, about how her club executed the comeback. “There were various people that scored during those times. And the team was hungry, the team was mad. They had a great feel to them and so they were screening well, moving the ball well. And one in particular is when Elizabeth scored in almost half a second. It was an urgency piece that you need to feel at that time, and it was great.”
That time of urgency came at the 5:30 mark when Tricia Liston hit a three-pointer to give the Devils the first lead of the game. Williams wasn’t about to let go of that lead once the Devils secured it. Liz Donohoe drove the ball to the hole for the Cowgirls and Williams made a big defensive stop with a block then completed the play with a lay in on the offensive end of the court and the Devils were suddenly up by three. A flash into the lane by the Cowgirls found the 6-3 Williams now standing watch over the basket and the Cowgirls turned the ball over again. Seconds later a jumper by Haley Peters and the Devils were in control at 58-53 with 1:55 left in the game.
“We’ve never been down this year,” explained McCallie. “I thought Elizabeth fought back. She was frustrated early but just came back really, really strong and probably played the best basketball at the most critical moments of the game.”
That’s what big time players do in any sport. When it comes time to decide who is going to win the game they step up and make sure their team wins the game.
“I think it was important for all of us for me to get some blocks and for us as a team to make some stops which gave us more confidence on offense,” explained Williams who ended the night with three blocks, a game high 16 points and 12 rebounds. “It was a great opportunity for us to fight together. We really haven’t had to do that this year. It was good for us as a team.”
The Blue Devils are now 20-2 in NCAA tournament games at home and haven’t lost one since 1996, and no team not named Connecticut has come into Cameron and beat the Blue Devils
And for Elizabeth Williams, this win meant just a little more than all those other wins. It meant a trip home with some of her best friends – her teammates.