Duke denies Gonzaga in its Final Four bid – USA TODAY
HOUSTON – Breaking down No. 1 seed Duke’s 66-52 victory against No. 2 seed Gonzaga in the NCAA South Region final at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Duke marches on to coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 12th Final Four, his first since 2010, with a team that possesses a plethora of offensive weapons.
If All-American Jahlil Okafor is nullified, as he was with his six-point effort Friday, freshman Justise Winslow steps forward with his best overall game of his brief college career. If Winslow is struggling, as he was through the early portions of Sunday’s game, then less heralded Matt Jones assumes more of an offensive role.
Krzyzewski was especially animated early in the second half as Gonzaga made a quick run to tie the game. He was imploring his Blue Devils to tighten up defensively. They did. The Blue Devils also turned the ball over just twice Sunday, another key to victory.
Duke endured a 2-for-16 shooting spell in the first half yet still held a five-point halftime lead. The Blue Devils turned the ball over just once in the half. With Winslow cold offensively, they leaned heavily on fellow freshmen Tyus Jones and Okafor. Duke led by 11 midway through the first half, a lead that quickly vanished.
Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer didn’t want any part of lamenting any issues with shooting inside cavernous NRG Stadium. No excuses, he said. The Kentucky transfer came out strong offensively Sunday. The 6-foot-10 forward was the prime reason why the Bulldogs remained close enough with the Blue Devils to make the second half extremely competitive.
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Blue Devils 66, Bulldogs 52
THE BIG PICTURE: With four national titles, Krzyzewski is the preeminent coach of the modern era, if not in all of college basketball history. His greatest attribute could be his ability to remain at the top through various, vastly different eras.
This is now the one-and-done era, and Krzyzewski has his team in another Final Four, the Blue Devils eyeing yet another national title. He has three outstanding freshman and a strong emotional leader in Quinn Cook. He is relying on freshmen more than he has traditionally. But it has worked.
Gonzaga reached its first Elite Eight since 1999, when Dan Monson was head coach. Since then, coach Mark Few, who succeeded Monson, has built a perennial national contender in 16 seasons. After long shedding the Cinderella role, Gonzaga found that succeeding in March has been easier said than done.
The Zags have endured early-round upsets, but this was Few’s deepest and most skilled team. This year marked a significant step forward for the Zags. As long as Few remains in Spokane, expect the Bulldogs to keep pounding on that glass ceiling. One of these years, they may just crack through.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Duke sophomore Matt Jones entered the game averaging 5.9 points per game. He is a 37.4% three-point shooter this season. On a night when Quinn Cook and Winslow both struggled to find their touch offensively at times, Jones erupted for 16 points, making 4 of 7 three-point attempts.
THE TWEET: One of the enduring images in recent NCAA tournament history is of then-Gonzaga standout Adam Morrison crying when the Bulldogs lost to UCLA, 73-71, in the Sweet 16 in 2006. Morrison was in attendance Sunday night to watch his former team try to reach its first Final Four.
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