Colorado, Duke show off offensive upgrades in March Madness

DURHAM, NC — Colorado and Duke rode their defenses to strong regular seasons.

Now they’re building more confidence on offense with excellent shooting performances in the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday night.

“We know it’s time and I think everyone’s really focused and just focused on their shots,” said Duke guard Celeste Taylor.

The third-placed Blue Devils (26-6) broke out of the offensive doldrums in a first-round loss to Iona on Saturday night. Sixth-seeded Colorado (24-8) sunk his best 13 shots of the season from 3-point range against Middle Tennessee.

It’s been five years since Duke was promoted to the Sweet 16, and even longer for Colorado – 20 years. Winner travels to the Seattle 4 area.

The Buffaloes, third defensively among the Pac-12 teams, have made themselves comfortable at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“Before that last game, we were talking about this gym being a shooters’ gym,” Colorado guard Kindyll Wetta said. “And Jaylyn[Sherrod]came up to me during one of the downtimes and was like, ‘This is a shooting gym.'”

The Buffaloes were held by under 50 points twice in their last five games before rolling past Middle Tennessee 82-60.

Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team needs to be “consistent in our defensive discipline, possession after possession” and “try to make things difficult because she knows they have a number of players who can hit hard.”

Duke had three straight games without reaching the 45-point mark, capped off by a season low in a 58-37 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinal loss to Virginia Tech. And the Blue Devils have won seven games without scoring 60 points.

Shooting 58.5% off the field in Iona’s 89-49 blowout was a welcome upgrade.

“Obviously it boosted our confidence with that,” said Duke Guard Reigan Richardson.

Duke has held opponents to 50 or fewer points 17 times, which is more than half the games he has played this season. Therefore, the Blue Devils naturally put an emphasis on defense.

“I really like attacks, believe it or not,” Lawson said. “You might watch us a few games and not think I like attacking, but I do. But as much as I like attacking, I like winning more.”

Along the road

Colorado has been in the Sweet 16 six times, but the Buffaloes have never won a second-round game away from home.

Duke was a frequent host during the tournament’s opening week but lost two of their last three home games in the second round, falling to DePaul in 2014 and Oregon in 2017. Those losses were #2 of the seed. Duke has never dropped a game in the second round while holding a No. 3 seed.

“This is a game for the Sweet 16,” Lawson said. “It’s a tough cut. This might be the hardest cut in the tournament if you think about it. Like going from 32 to 16. As if there were no contenders in the Sweet 16.”

home territory

Colorado guard Tayanna Jones is in her third season with the Buffaloes since joining from Georgetown. She is from Smithfield, North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Duke’s campus.

“It was a long way from home for them to come to Colorado, but I think we just bonded really well,” said Buffaloes coach JR Payne. “Really special to be here in her wooded area with her family just down the road.”

Jones, a starting guard, scored eight points in the Middle Tennessee game for their second-highest scoring since before Christmas.

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