DURHAM, N.C. — There are moments Kentucky wishes it could have back.
Kentucky was in Cameron Indoor Stadium and it had the third-ranked team in the nation on the ropes, but the No. 10 Cats couldn't close it out, instead falling 54-48 on Tuesday night.
Mostly Kentucky wishes it could take back several moments in the first half when it fell behind by as many as nine points to the Devils, who improved to 14-0.
"You can't come into a place like this against a team as talented as Duke is and play just one half," Coach Matthew Mitchell said. "That's what's disappointing."
For most of the second half — when the lead changed hands six times — UK had its way. It even grabbed a 48-46 advantage with 2:42 to play on an A'dia Mathies drive. That was the last time Kentucky would score.
When nothing was going right for the Devils, they still had Jasmine Thomas, who hit several big baskets in the waning minutes to keep Duke in the game.
"She's an outstanding player," Mitchell said of Thomas, who scored 14 of Duke's 23 points in the second half. "She absolutely dominated us. ... Just a poised player."
The senior guard had a game-high 24 points, four rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
No block was bigger than her swat of Keyla Snowden's three-pointer that could have tied the game in the final minute.
Thomas said she was focused on playing good defense, especially when Duke's shots weren't falling in the second half. The Blue Devils missed 18 of their first 19 shots of the second half and hit just 20 percent (6 for-30) in the final 20 minutes.
"Defense was what I was thinking about," Thomas said. "There was a stretch there where we weren't defending the way we wanted to, myself included. ... Down the stretch when every basket was so important, we got the stops."
Duke's defense held Kentucky to its lowest point total of the season.
"To hold a team that averaged 80 points a game to 48 is fantastic," Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
Freshman guard Chelsea Gray put the Devils up for good with her basket in the lane as the shot clock expired with less than a minute to go.
"That last shot, I don't know where it came from," said Gray, admitting later that it was supposed to be a pass. She had 11 points for the Devils.
McCallie smiled when asked about the play.
"When you work real hard, you get an element of luck," she said.
It was that lack of real hard work in the first half — including getting outrebounded 31-10 — that had Mitchell frustrated.
"Our entire success depends on everybody doing their part and we didn't get that for a full 40 minutes," he said. "I'm still convinced that we have the opportunity to be a very good team, but you're not going to beat Duke playing one half of basketball."
Despite foul trouble for Victoria Dunlap (she picked up her second just five minutes into the game) and Snowden (who got her second two minutes later), UK stayed with Duke for much of the first half. But things started to come undone at the end and the Devils grabbed some momentum via a 13-2 run to end the half, which Mitchell called "just a killer."
McCallie was happy with what she saw.
"It sent a message that we were really on it," McCallie said. "To score and reset the press and score again. It was too bad that half ended."
UK stormed out after the break with a 13-4 run to get back in it. Duke missed its first 13 shots. Snowden had seven points in that span and ended up leading UK in scoring for the fourth straight time with 15 points.
Dunlap added 10 points and six rebounds and Mathies had nine points and 10 rebounds for Kentucky, which had its six-game win streak halted.
"You saw us come out and assert ourselves and play with some toughness and fight," Mitchell said to describe the second half. "The players finally made a choice in the second half, but why they didn't in the first half, I don't know."