Missed open layup turns the tide in Duke basketball's Elite Eight victory

HOUSTON—What a difference one shot can make.

Duke's 66-52 victory against second-seeded Gonzaga in the South Regional final looked as though it was headed for a thrilling finish. With 4:48 to play, the Blue Devils clung to a 53-51 lead and the Bulldogs had the ball looking to extend a 5-0 run and tie the game.

Redshirt junior forward Kyle Wiltjer—former SEC Sixth Man of the Year at Kentucky—had been a thorn in Duke's side all night. After scoring 13 first-half points and seeming to disregard what defensive looks the Blue Devils threw at him, Wiltjer was held in check during the second half, scoring just three points. But when Wiltjer took a feed under the rim for a wide open layup to tie the game, there wasn't a single person at NRG Stadium doubting the Gonzaga star would convert.

Except Wiltjer's shot was too strong, and the ball clanged off the rim and out.

"It was a shot he makes. He would make that thing 499 times out of 500. Just a fluke," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said... Read more

President Bush, Dallas Cowboys take in Duke basketball's Elite Eight win

HOUSTON—The Blue Devils may have found their good luck charm deep in the heart of Texas.

The area behind Duke's bench during its 66-52 Elite Eight win against Gonzaga Sunday was stocked deep with Texas royalty. President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara were on hand, as well as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and head coach Jason Garrett.

This, of course, was not the first time these Texas icons have watched the Blue Devils play. President Bush became the first sitting or former president to take in a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium when Duke knocked off N.C. State 95-60 Jan. 18, 2014. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the 41st president are close friends thanks to their mutual involvement in the organization C-Change, a non-profit committed to assembling cancer leaders and eliminating the disease... Read more

Strange, but true: Geographic connections between Duke's Final Four runs

The Blue Devils' 2010 title run also went through Houston. | Michael Naclerio, Chronicle File Photo

The Blue Devils' 2010 title run also went through Houston. | Michael Naclerio, Chronicle File Photo

HOUSTON—Duke's triumph in the South Regional final wasn't quite déjà vú, but it definitely had an air of familiarity.

The Blue Devils triumphed against second-seeded Gonzaga 66-52 Sunday, earning a trip to Indianapolis for the Final Four. The last time Duke won a national championship, five years ago, the Blue Devils won the South Regional in Houston before advancing to Indianapolis and topping upset-minded Butler.

Five years later, Duke will look to replicate its 2010 feat by winning the South Region championship in Houston and national title in Indianapolis.Read more

Jahlil Okafor named to AP All-America first team, one vote shy of unanimous selection

Jahlil Okafor was named a first team AP All-America selection Monday.
Emma Loewe / The Chronicle

Jahlil Okafor was named a first team AP All-America selection Monday.

The AP All-America team was announced Monday, and to nobody's surprise, Jahlil Okafor made the cut.

The ACC Player of the Year added to his growing list of awards, becoming the second straight Duke freshman to be included on the first team after Jabari Parker earned one of the five spots last season.

Okafor was joined on the team by Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky, Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant and Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell. Russell and Okafor are the first pair of freshmen to make the All-America first team since the 2009-10 season, when Kentucky's John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins captured the honors.

Okafor has averaged 17.5 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Blue Devils this season, helping the Blue Devils advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2010. In addition to Monday's honor, the Chicago native has been named ACC Player of the Year, ACC Rookie of the Year, recipient of the Wayman Tisdale Award and a first-team selection on the USBWA All-America first team... Read more

VIDEO: Krzyzewski addresses on-campus crowd after South Regional title Sunday

Duke has been waiting a long time to get back to the Final Four—its fans have too.

After the Blue Devils arrived back in Durham following their South Regional title to earn their first Final Four bid in five years Sunday, they were received by an ecstatic group of fans early Monday morning. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski briefly addressed the crowd, mentioning how proud he was of his team, how tired they were after a long day of travel and how three of his players took tests on the flight from Houston to Durham.

The Chronicle's Jake Herb captured the scene, which includes Krzyzewski's comments and fan reactions as each Blue Devil gets off the bus following their 33rd win of the season.

Caught in the netting

Marshall Plumlee and company struggled to cut down the nets after their Elite Eight victory Sunday, but as they did during the contest, persevered to get the deed done.
Darbi Griffith / The Chronicle

Marshall Plumlee and company struggled to cut down the nets after their Elite Eight victory Sunday, but as they did during the contest, persevered to get the deed done.

HOUSTON—"We have eight guys. Come on. Four of them are freshmen. It's the youngest team I've ever had."

That was head coach Mike Krzyzewski's defense for his players looking simply baffled by the process of how to cut down the nets after celebrating their South Regional Championship Sunday evening.

First it was Marshall Plumlee, climbing the ladder and staring at the net for a few moments. He attempted to make the first cut and was startled to find his entire team yelling at him that he was cutting in the wrong spot. After recomposing himself, he tried again, in a different spot. Same result. Finally, third time was the charm for Plumlee, and he was able to successfully get his small piece of the net.

That was just the first issue when it came to cutting the nets for the Blue Devils.

Read more

Beyond the Arc: Duke basketball vs. Gonzaga

For the fourth straight game, Duke used a stingy defensive performance to keep its NCAA tournament run going. The top-seeded Blue Devils claimed the South Regional title Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium in Houston with a 66-52 win against No. 2 seed Gonzaga. Matt Jones and Justise Winslow led Duke with 16 points apiece as the Blue Devils punched their ticket to the FInal Four in Indianapolis, their first since 2010:

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Get contributions from the bench: The Blue Devils were able to prevail despite getting almost no help from their second unit. The trio of Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen combined for no points and five rebounds in 31 combined minutes, though Jefferson contributed solid defense in his 20 minutes of work... Read more

HALFTIME: Duke 31, Gonzaga 26

HOUSTON—With all the hoopla about NRG Stadium being a killer for 3-point shooters, Duke surely wasn't deterred in the first half, using its outside touch to open up a 31-26 lead over Gonzaga at the intermission.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs seemed almost intimidated by the prospect of letting it fly from beyond the arc—attempting just two triples despite averaging 7.1 attempts per game.

Tyus Jones had the offense working in the first half, scoring 11 points and adding three assists. Justise Winslow meanwhile was uncharacteristically quiet, scoring just five on 1-of-6 shooting.

Gonzaga was led by their star Kyle Wiltjer, who effortlessly scored 13 points. It was Kevin Pangos who was curiously quiet for the Bulldogs, going scoreless in the first half.

Here are some observations from the first half:

  • Kyle Wiltjer had no luck posting up the stronger Justise Winslow, but he did have his way with both Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson when they attempted to stop the WCC Newcomer of the Year... Read more

Everybody loves Kevin Pangos

HOUSTON—We've all seen the new ESPN 30-for-30 film entitled Everybody Hates Christian Laettner.

The documentary detailed why everybody hates Laettner, even now. And one of the primary reasons was because he was a pretty-boy player who seemed overly concerned with the way his hair looks. Forget the fact that he was the best college basketball player in the country and put together one of the best college basketball careers in the history of the sport. People hated Laettner as much for his talent as for his looks.

Now look at Kevin Pangos.

If the kid played at Duke he would be the most hated player in college basketball. With picturesque hair, a strong, masculine jawline and the skills to guide Gonzaga to the Elite Eight, he's practically begging people to hate him.

Except he's playing in relative obscurity in Spokane, Wash.

The Sporting News called ran a headline calling Pangos 'Baby Steve Nash' two days ago... Read more

NRG Stadium: A shooter's nightmare

Three-point shooters have struggled in the 30 games played at NRG Stadium.
Darbi Griffith / The Chronicle

Three-point shooters have struggled in the 30 games played at NRG Stadium.

HOUSTON—There's just something about NRG Stadium that makes it impossible to make 3-point shots.

In Friday's South Regional semifinal games, the four teams—Duke, Gonzaga, UCLA and Utah—combined to shoot just 22.8 percent from beyond the arc. According to Ken Pomeroy, teams have shot 32.2 percent all-time at NRG [formerly Reliant] Stadium in 15 games with this setup. The 30 teams playing in those 15 games shot 36.3 percent collectively during the season.

But if you ask Duke and Gonzaga, there is no correlation between NRG Stadium and poor shooting. In fact, they may have even coordinated their answers.

Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos—a 43.8 percent three-point shooter—went just 1-for-7 Friday aganst UCLA.Read more