Wow. What a game. It’s been such a wild tournament this year it’s only fitting that the two games yesterday would be two more examples of why college basketball is so compelling to watch. Obviously the result makes it sweeter for Duke fans, but this team has already exceeded expectations. For me anything beyond the Sweet Sixteen was gravy. And last night was a plate of biscuits with some good old fashioned spicy sausage gravy.
Last night on the twitter feed I got into it a little bit with a Tar Heel fan when he/she started chirping about the refs. I admit that I was overly adamant in my replies, but the Duke Conspiracy Syndicate stuff A) really annoys me on a personal level and B) takes away from the very real and very legitimate accomplishments of the players on the court. The best response to all that nonsense is no response at all. But I have to say this: Duke did not win this game because of the officiating. Anyone seriously trying to pursue that argument is a loony. Now it’s easy for me to say that as a Duke fan, but here is a non-Duke fan saying the very same thing more eloquently and with more neutrality than I could muster.
In my preview of this game I noted that statistically Baylor and Duke had very similar profiles with contrasting styles. And for the first 36 minutes of the game the contrasting styles were on display and the law of averages was carrying the day. Neither team was dominant in the first half as both sides were trying to settle in. Duke got into some early foul trouble and Baylor was missing a lot of shots early including a dunk. Dunn was living up the hype and proving to be a handful, or maybe an armful. For Duke, Nolan Smith was a scoring machine and Scheyer/Dawkins were 3/3 from distance. The last 3 minutes though, Baylor put together 10 straight points to surge out to a 6 point lead. The Texas crowd was in full throat as Duke turned the ball over on 3 straight possessions. But then Andre Dawkins, cool collected Andre Dawkins, hit another big 3 pointer to stem the tide.
In the second half both teams traded dry spells and traded blows. Baylor’s Udoh was the man of the hour with 14 of his 18 points carrying the Bears. (He also finished the game with 10 boards, 6 assists, 5 blocks, 1 steal and 14 raised eyebrows by NBA scouts) Duke finally started to be a bit more aggressive offensively. After only 2 free throw attempts in the first half the Devils shot 21/27 in the second half. (though that number is inflated a bit by the hacking fouls at the end of the game) The teams played each other even until the last 4 minutes of the game where on three of four possessions Duke pulled down and offensive rebound and kicked it out for a made three pointer. Down 3 Baylor missed on 3 opportunities to trim the lead. Duke came down and got a nice pass from Zoubek to Scheyer for another trey and suddenly the lead was 6. Baylor then lost their poise a little bit. After a big offensive board on a missed free throw Dunn took a rushed attempt that missed badly. Duke got another big O-board from Lance Thomas who was fouled on the tip in ‘dunk’. Now down 8, Tweety Carter dribbled himself into trouble and Kyle Singler, who finished 0-10 from the field, made a huge steal. The ensuing scrum that resulted in a tech called on Baylor was merely a footnote that gave the crazy Jason Whitlock followers of the universe something to grasp onto.
If I may pat myself on the back a bit here, I had a number of predictions in my preview of the game that proved right on:
- I thought the question of winning and loosing would come down to Duke shooting well enough to break 70 points. I didn’t think Baylor would get 70 - and if not for the goofy points scored when the outcome is decided they would not have. Duke was able to overcome another bad FG shooting night (32%) with superior free throw shooting and…
- I said Duke would have to hit some 3’s to win - they did that to the tune of 11-23 even with Singler going 0-5.
- I said Duke would need to be aggressive against the zone by driving and getting to the free thow line. Check.
- I said a Duke win would have to be buoyed by extra attempts from the offensive boards. I was right on that account 22 times. To Baylor’s credit they pulled down 17 O-boards, but Duke’s slight edge there translated to 7 more second chance points than the Bears. That was the margin in the game.
Coach K said in his post-game press conference that this is not “a great team, but we have great character.” I think that kind of sums up how I feel about them. Collectively this team is achieving beyond the sum of its parts. I mean look at Baylor - uber- athletic front line, speedy point guard, unstoppable shooting guard. That is exactly the kind of team that has eaten Duke alive in the tournament the last few years. And what kind of odds could you have gotten pre-game that Duke would win with Kyle Singler not making a basket from the field? (for the first time in his college career) I really liked Clark Kellog’s witticism at the start of the broadcast “This time of year it’s more about the will than about the skill.” Call it will, call it intestinal fortitude, call it indomitable spirit. This Duke team has it. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.