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

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer draws comparisons to Ryan Kelly

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer can stretch the floor at 6-foot-10, drawing comparisons to former Duke standout Ryan Kelly.
Darbi Griffith / The Chronicle

Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer can stretch the floor at 6-foot-10, drawing comparisons to former Duke standout Ryan Kelly.

HOUSTON—Before there was Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow masquerading as power forwards to give Duke an extra perimeter player on the floor, there was Ryan Kelly, the White Raven.

A real power forward, the 6-foot-11, Kelly poured in 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per night and shot 41.4 percent from long range between his junior and senior seasons. Kelly gave Duke a dimension that made every team that faced the Blue Devils during those years fret about which defense could take away Kelly's specific set of skills.

And now Duke is facing the very problem that bedeviled opponents for years, only worse.

Enter Kyle Wiltjer, the 22-year-old Kentucky transfer and recent recipient of the WCC Newcomer of the Year Award. At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Wiltjer is every bit a power forward as he is a marksman from 3-point range, where he shoots 46.9 percent.

"He reminds me of Ryan Kelly," senior Quinn Cook said. "We played [Wiltjer] when he was at Kentucky two years ago, and they have very similar games... Read more

Welcome to the South: Spell at your own risk

HOUSTON—The NCAA's South Regional is nothing more than a copy-editor's worst nightmare.

Friday's Sweet 16 matchup between Duke and Utah featured a matchup between two coaches with last names so difficult to spell they can only be referred to as "Coach K"—Mike Krzyzewski and Larry Krystkowiak. When asked about the relationship between two Polish-American coaches, Krzyzewski joked that he would "never diss another Polish-American."

"[I'd] probably give him our secret handshake," Krzyzewski said Thursday before his Blue Devils toppled Krystkowiak's Runnin' Utes 63-57. "I'm not going to tell you what it is."

After Krzyzewski proved he was the one true Coach K Friday, his Blue Devils looked ahead to a matchup with second-seeded Gonzaga and Polish center Przemek (pronounced SHEM-ick) Karnowski in the Elite Eight. Karnowski, whose full first name is Przemyslaw, bullied 11th-seeded UCLA in the Sweet 16, putting his 7-foot-1, 288-pound frame to work to the tune of 18 points and nine rebounds... Read more

The key three: Duke basketball vs. Gonzaga

After getting past upset-minded Utah on Friday, the top-seeded Blue Devils will take on second-seeded Gonzaga Sunday at 5:05 p.m. looking to advance to their first Final Four since 2010. Duke’s tournament run has been fueled by great individual play from freshmen Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor, as well as tremendous team defense by the Blue Devils. But the Bulldogs come into the Elite Eight with one of the most prolific offenses in the nation and will look to silence the doubters by clinching a spot in Indianapolis. Here are three keys to Duke notching another win and getting to the Final Four by claiming the South Regional title:

Get contributions from the bench

Duke’s starters have shown that they’re one of the most potent five-man units in the country. Yet the Blue Devils will be hard pressed to contend with one of the top teams in the country without key contributions from Amile Jefferson, Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee... Read more

X factor: Duke basketball vs. Gonzaga

Junior forward Amile Jefferson could make the difference against a strong Gonzaga frontline Sunday afternoon.
Darbi Griffith / The Chronicle

Junior forward Amile Jefferson could make the difference against a strong Gonzaga frontline Sunday afternoon.

The Blue Devils are just one game away from an appearance in Indianapolis and the Final Four and can punch their ticket Sunday evening against No. 2 seed Gonzaga at 5:05 p.m. at NRG Stadium in Houston. Prior to each game this season, the Blue Zone will break down a player from each team who could be the key to success.

Duke: forward Amile Jefferson

Although Jefferson's performance in the tournament has been wildly inconsistent thus far, he could play an important role Sunday night against a Gonzaga team that boasts an explosive offense and the nation's best field goal percentage, especially if star center Jahlil Okafor gets into foul trouble or struggles for the second straight contest. Jefferson should come off the bench and will be tasked with protecting the paint against a Bulldogs team that is shooting a whopping 52.4 percent from the field this season... Read more

HALFTIME: Maryland 31, Duke 23

As if Duke did not have enough motivation to win this game and move on in the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils faced their long-time ACC rivals before they left the conference for the Big Ten.

At the half, fourth-seeded Duke trails No. 1 seed Maryland 31-23 at Spokane Arena as the Blue Devils look to secure their spot in the Elite Eight. Senior Elizabeth Williams led Duke with 10 points and 6 rebounds.

The Terrapins jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead in the first two minutes of the game. Although Maryland seemed to dominate the floor, the Blue Devils managed to stay with the Terrapins. They briefly took the lead with 14:22 on the clock as Williams cut through the paint for an easy layup, but Maryland quickly regained the lead with a quick three.

Duke struggled with defending shots from beyond the arc all season. As the best three-point shooting team in the country, the Terrapins took advantage of the Blue Devils’ weakness, making 4-of-10 shots from deep, carried by Laurin Mincy.

Mincy connected early from deep to open the game... Read more

Injured Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman returning to Duke to complete degree

Former Blue Devil Marcus Stroman is returning to Durham.

Stroman—who suffered an ACL injury in spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays—announced via Twitter Friday that he will return to Duke this summer to complete his degree.

Stroman was selected 22nd overall by the Blue Jays in the 2012 MLB draft and forewent his senior season to enter the Toronto minor league system. After serving a 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance just a few months after being drafted, Stroman returned to the mound and kept working his way up toward the majors.

The 5-foot-9 right-hander broke into the big leagues last season, starting out in the bullpen before transitioning into the starting rotation. As a starter, Stroman found his groove, going 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts.

The Medford, N.Y... Read more

Beyond the Arc: Duke basktball vs. Utah

Playing in his hometown, just a day removed from his 19th birthday, freshman Justise Winslow carried the top-seeded Blue Devils to a 63-57 victory against No. 5 seed Utah in the Sweet Sixteen at NRG Stadium in Houston Friday night. The forward finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds in the game and made all the big plays when necessary to help Duke fight off the Utes' late rally. With the victory, the Blue Devils advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will take on second-seeded Gonzaga Sunday at 5:05 p.m.

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Play tight perimeter defense: The Blue Devils had perhaps their best defensive game of the season—holding the Utes to 35-percent shooting from the floor. Winslow and sophomore Matt Jones especially made their presence felt on the perimeter and prevented Utah from getting any open looks from beyond the arc... Read more