The women's basketball game Sunday between Virginia and Duke at University Hall was billed as a battle for first place in the ACC, with both teams sharing identical 7-1 Conference records.
And battle they did, en route to a 61-42 triumph over the Blue Devils.
The No. 24 Cavaliers (16-5, 8-1 ACC) exploded out of the gate, as first-year Schuye LaRue took a midcourt steal and sprinted down the court for the layup and the first two points of the game. This play set the tone for a first half that Cavalier Coach Debbie Ryan described as "incredible, defensively."
At the end of the half the Cavs had scored 17 points off turnovers compared to Duke's 0.
LaRue followed her layup with a trifecta from the top of the key less than 30 seconds later, and Virginia was ahead 5-0, on their way to an 18-0 lead, and eventual win.
No. 9 Duke (18-3, 7-2 ACC) did not score until 8:49 into the game, when junior Rochelle Parent put back her own miss under the hoop.
"That's the worst we've looked in a long, long time," said Duke Coach Gail Goestenkors.
At halftime, Goestenkors reminded her players of their 18-point comeback against Virginia at U-Hall last season. The Blue Devils came out in the second half with new hope, and tightened their defense to keep the game between the two most productive offenses of the ACC a low-scoring affair.
Thanks to a half court trap and full court press, Duke slowly cracked away at the Cavs 28-12 halftime lead.
"We rushed our shots in the second half and let them get back in the game," said LaRue, who added a field goal and a free throw in the second half to her nine points in the first.
With 8:11 left, the Blue Devils were within seven, but that was as close as they would get.
Point guard Renee Robinson's lightning-quick crossover and consistent ball handling withstood the swarming Duke defense, and Virginia pushed the lead back to 15 with 3:15 left. The 12-4 Virginia run was capped by Robinson, who converted the free throw after a slashing drive on which she made the layup and was fouled by Duke forward Lauren Rice.
The Cavs held on to take sole possession of first place in the ACC. Their 8-1 Conference record is their best start in team history.
However, Robinson said she refuses to be content with the team's current success.
"We're still gonna go out there and play each game. It really doesn't change anything," said Robinson, who led the team with 15 points. "We are in first place, but people still don't respect us. All the pressure is still on us."
Virginia stifled the top offense in the ACC with a suffocating man-to-man defense that didn't give the Duke sharp shooters any room to do their damage.
"Our main objective was to make sure their three-point shooters didn't get hot," said Virginia fourth-year Lisa Hosac, who led the team with five steals.
The Cavs achieved their main objective, holding the Blue Devils to 2 for 12 from downtown. Georgia Schweitzer was limited to nine points on 1-3 shooting from downtown, a far cry from her 23-point performance in Duke's 83-62 victory over Virginia in Durham Dec. 5.
Schweitzer was shut down for most of the game by Cav forward Svetlana Volnaya. Although the versatile third-year wasn't up to her high offensive standard, shooting 2-10 from the field, she found other ways to contribute.
Volnaya "really picked up on her defense," Hosac said. "Even when she's not shooting the ball she's an asset for us."
Duke was hurt by the absence of freshman center LeNedra "Peppi" Brown, who is out with a probable ligament tear in her knee.
"That's a nice excuse that we're using right now," Goestenkors said. "I don't think it's appropriate though. I don't think Peppi was the difference in that we couldn't score for the first 20 minutes."
Duke had less than a week to prepare for the Cavaliers without Brown, who was a starter and a vital part of the team's offensive attack.
"I'm sure when we see [Duke] in the ACC [Tournament] it'll be a different game," Robinson said.