Duke makes a statement
INDIANAPOLIS – The Duke basketball team is one win away from an NCAA title, and right now a lot of people look pretty stupid.
The analysts who cried that they were undeserving of a No. 1 seed.
The reporter who labeled them “alarmingly unathletic.”
The people who said their gaudy record was a product of a weak ACC.
And, most of all, the West Virginia Mountaineers, who got absolutely embarrassed and manhandled in Saturday’s 78-57 laugher of a national semifinal game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I don’t think anyone,” junior Kyle Singler said, “can question us now.”
Not after Saturday, when Duke dominated West Virginia in every aspect of the game.
The Blue Devils made 13 of their 25 attempts from beyond the arc and outscored the Mountaineers 19-7 on second chance points. West Virginia shot just 30 percent in the second half against Duke’s menacing defense and never made consecutive baskets after intermission.
“A lot of games,” center Brian Zoubek said, “we’ve done really well on defense, or we’ve done well on rebounding or we’ve had a great offensive night. But rarely have we had it all at once. You really saw us come together tonight.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year.”
If Duke continues this pace it should have no problems dismantling Butler in what could easily turn into a lopsided, humdrum national title game Monday. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has defeated its five NCAA tournament opponents by an average of 17 points. The only close game was a 78-71 victory over Baylor in the Elite Eight.
Krzyzewski has said all season that Duke is a good team, but not a great one. No one would argue if he changed his tune.
“We just keep getting better,” the coach said after Saturday’s win.
Krzyzewski has won three national championships and guided Duke to 10 Final Fours. Still, as much as he tries to downplay it, this may be one of the finest coaching performances of his Hall of Fame career.
Singler is the only player on Duke’s roster who projects as a first round NBA draft pick. Before this season the senior class of Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Zoubeck had never advanced past the Sweet 16.
Experience, though, pays off in the end.
Or at least it has for Duke, whose chemistry is its most lethal trait.
“It’s been a progression,” Zoubek said. “We’ve been through so much together. There’s been so much hard work. I think we work harder than anyone in the country. If you don’t believe me, come to practice.
“We didn’t go through all of that to come here and lose.”
A defeat never even seemed like a possibility throughout most of Saturday’s game. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Singler and Smith gave the Blue Devils a 31-21 lead with 5:42 remaining in the first half, and West Virginia never threatened again.
Scheyer (23 points), Singler (21) and Smith (19) combined for 63 of Duke’s 78 points Saturday. The threesome entered the game averaging a combined 53.2 points, making it the top scoring trio in Division I college basketball.
“We have all the right pieces,” Singler said.
And the right frame of mind.
While West Virginia appeared frazzled from the opening tip, Duke never seemed to be anything close to unnerved. When they weren’t practicing, eating or taking care of their media responsibilities, Scheyer said he and his teammates basically locked themselves in their hotel rooms the last few days to distance themselves from the hoopla surrounding the Final Four.
“I wasn’t watching ESPN and things like that,” Scheyer said. “I don’t know how many times people can analyze a game. Every time you turned on a TV people were talking about the game. As a player, that’s not good for me to hear.
“This team is so level-headed right now. We did a great job of staying focused and worrying about the game plan.”
When the Blue Devils entered the locker room after Saturday’s win, players said they began chanting “One more game! One more game!”
Indeed, a single victory is all that separates Duke from college basketball’s most coveted crown. Even though they’re playing an unlikely opponent from a non-BCS conference, the Blue Devils vowed they won’t take Butler lightly.
The Bulldogs have won 25 straight games and defeated three Top 15 teams (Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State) to earn a berth in Monday’s championship.
“Trust me,” Scheyer said, “we know Butler isn’t a Cinderella. We’re not about to overlook those guys. We’ve got a lot of respect for them.”
And now – finally – everyone feels the same way about Duke.