Mountaineers Praise Duke

  • April 04, 2010 02:57 AM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 4, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team. That was the case Saturday night when Duke made 13 3-point field goals in a 78-57 victory over West Virginia to advance to the national championship game.

  Sophomore forward Kevin Jones embraces senior Wellington Smith following West Virginia's 78-57 loss to Duke in the national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

The Big Three of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith scored 63 of Duke’s 78 points, and it seemed at times like those points were just coming in waves.

Early in the game, Singler scored seven straight during one stretch to give Duke an 18-11 lead. Then, Smith got it going with three straight 3s to build Duke’s lead to 13, 37-24. Much later in the second half, Scheyer got seven of Duke’s nine points during an important stretch to keep the Blue Devils’ lead at 15.

“To score that many points against West Virginia is a lot,” said Krzyzewski. “But we hit shots. To go 13 for 25 from 3 is very good.”

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins thought the decision to use the 1-3-1 zone early in the game when the deficit was still manageable may have backfired on the Mountaineers.

“We just don’t do things well on the fly and it’s my fault,” Huggins admitted. “I think a couple of assistants thought we should give it a look in the first half to see how they attacked it. I should have done it after a dead ball, and I didn’t do it. Then they got a couple of real easy looks.”

“You can’t leave good shooters open,” added Da’Sean Butler. “That just doesn’t make any sense. We were just doing a really bad job of just finding people.”

The question was posed to Nolan Smith after the game if this was Duke’s best overall performance since its 82-50 dismantling of North Carolina on March 6.

“We definitely came out and played a very complete game,” admitted Smith. “The team was ready. We knew it was going to be a 40-minute war. Everybody played a great game.”

As well as the Big Three played Saturday against West Virginia, Duke’s other two starters Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas also made critical contributions. The two combined for 8 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and one steal. Zoubek was particularly tough on the glass, pulling down five offensive rebounds, while also performing well out on the perimeter setting picks for the Big Three.

At one point, Zoubek and Thomas helped Duke to a 17-0 advantage in second-chance points; the Blue Devils finished the game plus-12 (19 to 7) in that category.

“What’s really hard is if you try to do too many things to keep the ball out of those three guys hands, you turn the other two guys loose at the rim to rebound the ball and I don’t think you can let them offensive rebound the ball,” said Huggins. “I told our guys and I told our guys and I told our guys.

“Of course I say that and my center is 6-6 (Wellington Smith) and theirs is 7-1,” added Huggins. “What happens is they get you so deep and then he does a great job of putting a body on you and then it becomes a reaching game. My experience has been 7-1 guys outreach 6-6 guys every time.”

Duke also had a much greater margin for error. If Scheyer is not hitting there is always Singler or Smith to go to, or vice versa. If Butler is not hitting maybe West Virginia has another offensive option such as Joe Mazzulla, who stepped up to score 17 in the East Regional finals against Kentucky.

Or maybe West Virginia doesn’t have another option. That was a gamble Krzyzewski was willing to take.

“We thought the matchup of Kyle and Butler was the key matchup for us,” said Krzyzewski. “Even up until the time he was hurt, I thought we still played very well against him. He can dominate a game. Kyle not only played outstanding defense, but he played an outstanding game. Singler had a great game tonight because he had the toughest matchup.”

As for Butler, who finished his fantastic Mountaineer career with 10 points, he said in the locker room after the game that he suffered a twisted knee when he collided with Zoubek with about nine minutes left in the game.

“It was more me just being scared,” Butler said. “I’ve never hurt myself before, so I was scared more than anything. I still have to go to the doctor. They said I need to get it checked out and I should be alright.”

West Virginia finishes its season with a school record 31 wins, the first Big East tournament championship in its 15-year existence in the league, and its first trip to the Final Four in 51 years. Huggins thought those things were possible with this year’s team.

“We thought we had a chance in the beginning of the year to be a good basketball team,” said Huggins. “We fought through a lot of things. Deniz (Kilicli) sitting for 22 games. I think if Deniz plays the whole year he’s a totally different player. That made it difficult trying to get him involved because he is a guy who can score the ball for us.

“Joe (Mazzulla) not being able to really play for two-thirds of the year – we put him in games – but he couldn’t really play. Then Truck (Bryant) going down,” Huggins continued. “I think through all of it, our guys have done a great job of persevering and working their way through things.

“They’re good guys. They’re guys who put the team and the welfare of others before themselves. That’s a great character trait to have,” said Huggins.

“You can’t really put into words how tough this is,” added Mazzulla. “Looking at how we came along through the course of the year and how close we got, to go down the way we did, I can’t explain it.”

Then Mazzulla went on to explain it.

“We ran into a better team and they got the best of us today,” he said. “Their big three stepped up and you have to give all of the credit to them.”