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Paulus helps steady Blue Devils

It has often been said that being point guard at Duke is like being quarterback at Notre Dame. Each is the premier position in its respective sport, and each is also among the most scrutinized.

Earlier this season Greg Paulus was feeling the wrath of that scrutiny. The media was chopping the sophomore down, criticizing him for his numerous turnovers and calling him a failure. His assist-to-turnover ratio was hovering around one, he lost his starting spot against Davidson and Indiana in November and was battling several minor injuries.

Some even suggested that Paulus should leave Duke and take up the offer Notre Dame had extended him before college to become its quarterback.

Things hit rock-bottom for Paulus in the Blue Devils' ACC opener against Virginia Tech. Held scoreless for the only time this season, Paulus finished with a stat line of one assist, six turnovers and two fouls in 18 minutes of action.

His head coach, however, never lost faith.

Former point guard Bobby Hurley, the NCAA's all-time assists leader, called Mike Krzyzewski to remind his coach of some of the struggles that he had endured as an underclassman at Duke. Having forgotten that Hurley had fought through similar issues, Krzyzewski appreciated the reminder. He changed his approach to dealing with Paulus and convinced him that his play did not have to be perfect.

And now, as Duke heads down the final stretch of the regular season and toward the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, it is starting to become apparent exactly why Krzyzewski maintained his trust.

Paulus scored 15 points Sunday against Georgia Tech for his sixth straight game in double digits and 10th over the past 11 contests. Even during Duke's losing streak, Paulus remained as one of the Blue Devils' most consistent players, nearly guiding them to a victory over Florida State single-handedly with a career-high 23 points.

He is shooting a team-best 43 percent from long range this season and seems to have developed a knack for knocking down big shots in clutch situations.

In the second half of Sunday's contest with Duke ahead 53-43, Paulus pulled up and hit a 15-foot midrange jumper from the left side. After the Blue Devils surrendered back-to-back baskets to the Yellow Jackets to close the gap to eight, Paulus once again stepped up. DeMarcus Nelson found a wide-open Paulus in the left corner for a three-pointer that increased the lead back to double digits.

"I'm confident in my shot and making those kinds of plays," Paulus said.

His teammates recognize the value in having a point guard who can knock down shots. Paulus is hitting nearly 10 percent more of his three-point tries this year than he did last year, when J.J. Redick was the Blue Devils' primary long-range threat. With his more accurate touch, Paulus and sharp-shooting freshman Jon Scheyer have each assumed that role at various points.

"Greg and Jon both, they keep the court spread so that'll open up lanes for DeMarcus and Gerald to drive and also spread the court for offensive rebounds," sophomore Dave McClure said. "What it opens up for us is countless things."

His shooting is not the only thing the sophomore has improved upon as the season has progressed. He has also become a much more reliable ball-handler and has helped guide the resurgence of Duke's transition game. Over the past 11 games his assist-to-turnover ratio has been just less than two.

"Greg's making sure he comes to the ball and leads us in the break, and everyone runs their lanes and just gets easy points like that," Lance Thomas said.

Duke's postseason success will be contingent upon how well Paulus guides the Blue Devils. One thing is certain, however.

Krzyzewski is not about to lose faith in him-and Paulus is Duke's starting point guard, not Notre Dame's quarterback.

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