Catch Them If You Can

After quieting the critics in both the short and long term sense, this group of Blue Devils have their eyes on the biggest prize of all this week in Indianapolis.

So much has been made about the energy Duke expends in a given game and many have theorized that eventually, that much output over 35 games has to catch up to the Blue Devils. The rebuttal from the Duke players -- catch us if you can.

They're two games away from winning a national championship and they seem to be going strong.

"I feel at the end of the game, I was at my best," said Duke forward Lance Thomas, who grabbed two crucial late-game offensive rebounds and finished with eight total offensive rebounds in the South Region final against Baylor. "I wanted it bad. ... They had the athletes, but the way we train, I wasn't tired."

Duke keeps putting the accelerator down at the end of the game. The seven-point margin of victory against Baylor was Duke's only NCAA Tournament game decided by single digits.

Thomas' energy was evident in the waning minutes as he converted his first tip-dunk of the season with 1:36 as part of a three-point play.

Adrenaline ought to be able to carry the Blue Devils through one more week. Guard Jon Scheyer played the entire game against Baylor and guard Nolan Smith checked in just shy of 40 minutes.

Compared to many Duke teams, the Blue Devils have flown beneath the radar this season. But that's in relative terms because of the high-profile nature of the program they're extremely visible. And now, they carry the label of tournament favorite when heading to the Final Four.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Duke is the only No. 1 regional seed to reach the Final Four. West Virginia is the only No. 2 seed remaining. The road to the 15th Final Four for Duke was full of curves and even detours Sunday against Baylor before pulling out a 78-71 victory in Houston.

--Duke has won 33 games this season. That's the most since the 2001 season, when the Blue Devils won the national championship with a 35-4 record. If they reach the 35-win mark again this season, they'll have another national title.

COACH: Mike Krzyzewski, 30 years at Duke, with 75 NCAA Tournament victories (all-time leader in that category).

KEYS TO VICTORY: This Final Four semifinal against West Virginia is a rematch of a 2008 NCAA Tournament game in the second round. West Virginia won that game. There are players from both teams who played in that matchup, though Duke guard Jon Scheyer has suggested that both teams probably have evolved since that matchup. Duke might have an edge in backcourt depth because West Virginia has injury issues there. If nothing else, after dispatching Purdue and Baylor in the regional, the Blue Devils have dealt with teams matching them physically in some areas.

There have been questions throughout the tournament whether Duke could win without one of the big three putting up sizeable totals on the stat sheet, but it happened again in the regional final against Baylor, when Kyle Singler scored five points and didn't have a field goal. That was on the heels of some cool-shooting nights from Scheyer, including a 1-of-11 evening against California. Nolan Smith has been extremely steady and exploded for a career-best 29 points against Baylor. He could again be the wildcard in the national semifinal.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never had a group exactly like this one. Again, we're not a great team, but we are really a good team. But we have great character. To be around that character on a day-to-day basis is so fulfilling for me. That's why I'm very, very happy for them." - coach Mike Krzyzewski as he'll take a team to the Final Four for the 11th time. It will be Duke's 15th Final Four appearance.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL


SCOUTING REPORT: Duke is suddenly the favorite for the NCAA title after the other three regional No. 1 seeds fell by the wayside before reaching the Final Four. The Blue Devils keep finding answers, perhaps most impressive because they've endured terrible shooting games from some of their top players in the NCAA Tournament and yet they march on. Duke hangs much of its credentials on a defense that has been unwavering for the most part. And the confidence is soaring for a team that has lost only once since January. Duke should be able to throw enough post players at West Virginia to be effective in the middle. However, the Blue Devils would be wise to avoid another subpar shooting game.

GAME REVIEW:

  • Duke 73, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 44 (NCAA Tournament first round)
  • Duke 68, California 53 (NCAA Tournament second round)
  • Duke 70, Purdue 57 (NCAA Tournament South Region semifinals)
  • Duke 78, Baylor 71 (NCAA Tournament South Region final)
GAME PREVIEW:
  • vs. West Virginia, Saturday, April 3, national semifinals

ROSTER REPORT:

--F Brian Zoubek, with four fouls, stepped in front of Baylor's Quincy Acy, wiping out the basket with Baylor leading 59-57. "With four fouls, that was a lucky blow of the whistle," Zoubek said. By the time Zoubek fouled out at the 2:18 mark, the Blue Devils led by six. He finished with a team-high nine rebounds in 19 minutes.

--G Andre Dawkins made arguably one of the biggest shots of the game in the final minute of the first half after Baylor scored 10 consecutive points and built a six-point lead. "This is a chance to go to the Final Four, you'd better be ready," Dawkins said. "I was so into the game, I was just so immersed in the game and ready." Dawkins also had a 3 earlier the first half for his only two baskets of the game.

--F Kyle Singler, who's Duke's second-leading scorer this season and who had averaged more than 20 points in the previous 16 games, missed all 10 of his shots from the field against Baylor. He scored four of his five points on free throws in the last 30 seconds when the Bears were forced to foul. "The most important thing was getting the win," Singler said. He was held without a field goal for the first time in 109 career games.

--G Nolan Smith, a junior who received the Most Outstanding Player honor in the regional, finished with a career-high 29 points against Baylor. He previous best was 24 points, hitting that mark three times this season.

--F Lance Thomas has a scratch across his forehead, a souvenir from the South Region final against Baylor. "The scratch is the least of what I have. I got beat up the whole game," he said.


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