Comeback ‘Cats dump Duke
ANAHEIM, Calif. – Duke is done, buried under one of the most improbable second-half surges in the history of the NCAA tournament.
Arizona is alive, invigorated by superstar Derrick Williams, whose aggression finally rubbed off on his teammates at just the right time.
The Wildcats are in the Elite Eight after stunning the Blue Devils 93-77 Thursday night in the West Region semifinals, their fans’ cheers reverberating through a rocking Honda Center that could hardly believe what had just happened.
Williams was a one-man band in the first half, keeping his team within striking distance with 25 points. Williams, a sophomore, finished with a career-high 32 and added 13 rebounds as his legend and NBA stock continues to grow.
“The Elite Eight is great, but we’re not looking to stop right there,” said Williams, who has gone from lightly regarded recruit to player of the tournament. “We’re trying to win a national championship one step at a time. One more game to the Final Four.”
Something lit a fire under fifth-seeded Arizona in the second half to keep that dream alive. The Wildcats (30-7) began attacking the basket with force, defending with vigor and banging the boards in a manner that left Duke (32-5) looking more like Duquesne. Arizona scored 55 points over the final 20 minutes. It shot 58.3 percent from the field while limiting Duke to 37.5 percent and outrebounded the Devils 40-27 for the game.
The No. 1 seed wasn’t just knocked out; it was knocked out cold.
“The one huge turnaround in the second half, and that was like a second game, was we played as a total team,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We were revved up. We had a lot of guys playing at a high level, and we rebounded. To me [rebounding] was the difference in the game.”
Not even Mike Krzyzewski’s pleas to the officials could quell these ‘Cats. The 93 points tied for the most the Devils allowed all season.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” Krzyzewski said. “They were phenomenal.”
Duke led 53-47 with 16:19 left in the second half after two free throws by freshman point guard Kyrie Irving. Arizona promptly reeled off a 19-2 run over the next 4:13 that put them up 66-55. Perhaps most interesting was where the points came from to close things out.
Sophomore guard Lamont Jones had 14 over the last 20 minutes. Sophomore forward Solomon Hill had 10. Sophomore swingman Kevin Parrom and senior forward Jamelle Horne had seven apiece. And, yeah, Williams had seven.
“Derrick is a phenomenal player, but we have other good players on this team who come in and work hard night in and night out and give great effort,” Jones said.
“Solomon Hill has been playing some of the greatest basketball in his two years at Arizona. Jesse Perry [six boards] came out and rebounded the ball. Any given player on our team can come out and give it to you in different ways.”
They gave it to the Devils, all right. The defending national champions’ postgame locker room devolved into a crying chamber. Irving had 28 points in what likely was his final college game. Senior forward Kyle Singler had 18 points and eight rebounds, but was limited for much of the second half by foul trouble.
“When we came out in the second half, we didn’t play very good basketball and it’s very disappointing,” Singler said. “It hurts. They hurt us on the boards, especially in the second half.”
With Duke deposed, Arizona looks forward to facing Connecticut on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four.
After chopping down Duke in chainsaw-like fashion, anything seems possible.
“They’re a formidable opponent and rightfully so since we’re playing for the Final Four,” Miller said of UConn. “Hopefully we can have more of the same on Saturday with the way we play.
“I think that’s a big part of this tournament, not getting caught up in who you’re playing. ‘Can we be at our best and do the things that make us good?’ That’s the story line for us on Saturday.”
That formula worked pretty well on Thursday.