PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - It's hard to say exactly when Karima Christmas knew the DePaul Blue Demons couldn't guard her.
Maybe the notion that she would have a field day against the DePaul defense came to her earlier in the week during a film session.
Maybe she woke this morning simply knowing it was her day to shine.
Or maybe it was after she scored her first basket of the game, snatching the missed Haley Peters three pointer and putting the ball back up and into the basket for the first of 23 points for the senior in Duke's 70-63 win over DePaul to advance to the Elite Eight.
If you ask Christmas, when in the game did you know they couldn't guard you, she simply avoids the question. Instead saying, "I just tried to attack at all times. When I saw an opening I just took it."
It is that modesty that has allowed Christmas to fly under the radar, sort of speak, to people who aren't familiar with the Duke program.
To anyone who has followed the Blue Devils over the past four years, they have seen the superior strength, athleticism and tenacity of Christmas. You can't mention Christmas's name without conjuring up memories of her performance against Stanford during her sophomore season. She almost single handily led the Blue Devils in their win over Stanford finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds.
For her teammates, like fellow senior Jasmine Thomas, watching Christmas score 23 points, grab nine rebounds, hand out three assists and record three steals is common place.
"I saw what she was capable of doing every single day," Jasmine said. "I think you could kind of see that senior come out of her as far as this is not going to be my last game, and I have so much more to give."
She was un-guardable for the entire game, but no more so during the first half in which she led the Blue Devils to a 41-28 halftime lead.
"We settled for outside shots in the last game and we went down in a deficit to Marist and we wanted to come out in this game and attack from the inside first," Christmas said. "And, if we had open shots, we could try to shoot them, but we wanted to go inside first."
She scored 14 of her 23 in the first half, shooting 5-of-8 from the floor and 4-of-7 from the free throw line.
"It was a great game," Christmas said. "The first half was awesome. We came out strong, stronger than we did in the last game and that is something I am proud of."
And her teammates were proud of her.
"Every time she touched the ball she knew she was going to run it down someone's throat," Jasmine said. "You could just see that she knew that they couldn't guard her, that she was either taller or stronger than anyone that they put on her."
"I was just very proud of her," Jasmine added.
Nothing Jasmine said about Christmas is untrue. Christmas outmuscled whichever Blue Demon defender tried to guard her.
DePaul star Keisha Hampton tried, but inevitably failed, scoring just 11 points and fouling out after 22 minutes.
"I definitely wanted to go at her [Hampton], be aggressive and just try to go in to the lane and try to get her into foul trouble," Christmas said. "It was a great matchup; it was good having to play defense on her."
"We had no answer for Christmas," DePaul head coach Doug Bruno said. "We couldn't guard her, and nothing we tried to do could manage her. Fee Chester probably did the best job on her, but we were also very small with everybody healthy."
Christmas though wasn't the only Blue Devil that DePaul struggled to defend.
Jasmine finished 19 points and four assists and freshman Chelsea Gray scored 16 in her first career start in an NCAA Tournament game.
"I am just really proud of my team and our leadership," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We really have some special seniors as I think you know. Jasmine Thomas is an All-American in every sense of the word. Academically, on the court and in everything that she does. Karima Christmas is really showing her true colors and may be everyone's "almost" All-American in that regard because she has had some incredible games."
"She [Gray] played very smart and savvy," McCallie added. "Chelsea is a terrific player. She wants to get better. She is a hungry player. She makes some very interesting plays on the floor."
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