HOUSTON -- The Duke Blue Devils advanced to their 16th Final Four in a way many didn’t expect they would. They were better on the defensive end against the Utah Utes and Gonzaga Bulldogs than they’ve arguably have been all season.
Utah was the top 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12 and made just four of 16 attempts. The Zags as a team shot 40 percent from 3-point range, but made just two of 10 attempts. The Blue Devils have held their past six opponents to under 32 percent shooting from behind the arc.
One area of concern that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might have is how to get center Jahlil Okafor back into an offensive groove. Utah double-teamed the Blue Devils' leading scorer every time he touched the ball. He tied a season-low with six points and four turnovers trying to throw out of them. The Zags had a big man to match up with Okafor and he finished with just nine points, marking the first time he didn’t reach double figures in consecutive games this season.
Star of the regional: Tyus Jones is showing why point-guard play is instrumental for teams that advance in March. Jones was named the South Regional Most Outstanding Player after averaging 15 points and 4.5 assists in their two victories.
He was especially effective in the Elite Eight win over the Zags. Jones had six assists and no turnovers and seemingly drove into the lane at will.
"We hit a couple shots; that was forcing them to close out a little bit harder," Jones said. "That opened up driving lanes and just was -- you know, we were able to just play after we were able to hit a couple outside shots."
Jones also made 13 of 14 free-throw attempts, which could be a factor moving forward as the games get closer and the stakes get higher in the Final Four.
Big moment in Houston: Gonzaga leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer was wide open for a shot with a chance to tie the game with 4:48 left. Maybe that would have been the high moment for the Bulldogs and Duke still would have pulled away for a double-digit win. Maybe the game would have been back-and-forth, with lead changes the rest of the way. Maybe the Blue Devils would have started to feel the tournament pressure Krzyzewski is so apt to reference.
We’ll never know.
Wiltjer, one of the best 3-point shooters in college basketball, missed the layup. Like a warm-up line in pregame, wide-open layup. Needless to say it was deflating for the Zags, and Duke knew how to respond.
The Blue Devils capitalized by running off a 7-0 spurt, punctuated by a Justise Winslow 3-pointer that left no doubt who was in control.
The Zags never got closer than eight points after Winslow’s shot, and the celebration began on the Duke sideline.
What’s next: Duke now faces Michigan State, a team it defeated 81-71 on Nov. 18 in the Champions Classic doubleheader. It was just the third game of the season and both teams are very different now. Think about it: Okafor, Winslow and Tyus Jones were playing in their third college basketball game. Duke will likely be favored to reach Monday night’s championship game, where it could face the other team that played in the Champions Classic that night in Kentucky, or a Wisconsin team it defeated in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.