HOUSTON -- Some quick thoughts from a great South Regional final where Duke beat Baylor 78-71. I think that makes this tourney 4-for-4 in entertaining Elite Eight games.
Absolutely great game here. Anyone who thought these teams didn't belong in the Elite Eight has been proven wrong. Both teams played with intensity on either ends of the floor from the opening tip. The defensive pressure brought by both teams was impressive. Every bucket was hard earned.
The crowd, egged on by a jumping-jack Scott Drew, was sensational. As loud and intense as it was in Detroit last year for Michigan State.
That long-awaited return to the Final Four is finally over for Duke. No more "since" questions for Mike Krzyzewski, no more "what's wrong" questions for this senior class. The Devils are back for the first time since (one last time on the since) 2004 and the team most vilified for its No. 1 seed will be the only No. 1 seed in Indianapolis.
Of the big three, Nolan Smith might be the least talked about, but he shouldn't be after today. With Kyle Singler unable to buy a bucket and Jon Scheyer hot and cold, Smith was magnificent from the start of the game. He was the only guy fast enough to blow by Baylor's guards. He finished with 29 points and almost single handedly put the Devils back in the Final Four.
Other than Smith, the difference in this game was the same as it's been all year for Duke -- defense and rebounding. The Blue Devils made the Bears work for every basket and then outworked them on the boards. Duke had 41 rebounds to Baylor's 33, but more importantly, pulled down 22 off the offensive glass. Every one extended the possession, giving the Devils second shot after second shot.
Singler was 0-for-10 from the field. And Duke won. Think about that.
Ekpe Udoh just made himself a bunch of money. The Baylor big man was terrific and there was nothing anyone in a Duke uniform could do about it. He finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
Credit absolutely has to be given to Baylor here. In a year of Cinderella, no one's story is maybe more improbable than the Bears'. They were a program in shambles seven years ago, unable to play a full conference slate five years ago, but finished today on the precipice of the Final Four.