LIVE BLOG: Villanova 77, Duke 54 (FINAL)

VILLANOVA 77 DUKE 54 -- FINAL -- Ballgame. Season.

VILLANOVA 68 DUKE 50 -- 3:42 SECOND HALF -- Not much else to say for the Blue Devils. I don't have the numbers, but Jon Scheyer has to be having one of his worst shooting performances of his Duke career tonight. Same may go for Henderson and even Singler. For the Blue Devils to win tonight, they needed all three of their stars to step up. None have.

It is the same day as Illinois came back on Arizona, but no such miracles in Boston tonight.

Sabreena: "This is the lineup that couldn't even win the Blue/White game."

VILLANOVA 64 DUKE 49 -- 5:18 SECOND HALF -- Henderson's first field goal of the game--a three--might be a tad too late.

Or, as my fellow reporter Sabreena Merchant put it a few minutes ago: "Duke could use a three-point shooter, like, you know, Taylor King." Roll of the eyes to that one.

VILLANOVA 56 DUKE 43 -- 7:58 SECOND HALF -- The Blue Devils missed a golden opportunity to trim the margin under 10 when Kyle Singler missed the front end of a one-and-one for the second time tonight. Scottie Reynolds hit two on the other end--keeping 'Nova a perfect 11-of-11 from the line.

Reggie Redding hit a backbreaking three to push the lead back out to 16, answered by Jon Scheyer. But does Duke have enough to defend Villanova's quickness without fouling? Both teams are already in the double bonus, but the Wildcats are converting their free throws, and the Blue Devils can't afford to trade buckets at this point. A 1-3-1 zone a few possessions ago was effective; Duke may go back to it if it ever forces Villanova into a halfcourt offense.

VILLANOVA 49 DUKE 35 -- 10:41 SECOND HALF -- Gerald Henderson picked up his fourth personal foul with just under 14 minutes to play, and it's probably about time for Krzyzewski to bring him back. Duke needs the offensive spark. It's hard to imagine Henderson playing his last game as a Blue Devil without scoring a field goal.

On defense, the Blue Devils have to make the Wildcats hit shots. TO EMPHASIZE, Villanova has TWO field goals outside of the paint (by my admittedly fallible count).

VILLANOVA 45 DUKE 33 -- 13:00 SECOND HALF -- I don't mean to be all Billy Packer, but this one could be over. Villanova is dissecting the Blue Devils' defensive overplays, and it again has just one field goal outside of the paint this half--a Dante Cunningham mid-range jumper. Maybe Duke shouldn't be closing out so tightly on those shooters, eh?

VILLANOVA 36 DUKE 26 -- 15:57 SECOND HALF -- Danger zone for Duke right now. Villanova is beating the Blue Devils' pressure and getting what it wants at the basket. How many times has the baseline been open for the 'Cats tonight?

On offense, Henderson has called for the ball, but he hasn't finished yet; he's still without a field goal. He's been getting to the lane but has dished off to other players, who are a bit hesitant--even Jon Scheyer, who came out of the gates as aggressive as anyone in white. The last few times he's had an open look, Scheyer has flinched, and allowed the 'Nova defense to recover. He should be able to fake, maintain his feet and draw a foul on those.

Speaking of fouls, Villanova has five already while Duke has two. Henderson has three personals and can ill afford to pick up a fourth anytime soon.

VILLANOVA 32 DUKE 25 -- 17:54 SECOND HALF -- Already opening up a little, not in favor of Duke. Henderson was furious he didn't get the ball on a reversal last possession, and this timeout may be nothing more than, "Hey guys, remember Gerald? He's pretty good."

VILLANOVA 26 DUKE 23 -- HALFTIME -- Time for some stats:

--Duke is 7-of-25, which multiplies conveniently to 28 percent.

--The Blue Devils' big three is 3-of-20 (Henderson 0-of-5, Scheyer 1-of-8, Singler 2-of-7).

--Villanova is shooting 10-of-29, with 18 points in the paint and 11 second-chance points.

--Dante Cunningham is just 2-for-9.

--Six total assists in the game (Nova with 2, Duke with 4), and 11 total turnovers ('Cats 5, Devils 6).

--The game's leading scorer, with a sparkling eight points  in 11 minutes, is Dwayne Anderson.

I'm sticking to my guns and thinking this game has to open up in the second half, just because these teams have to shoot better. Villanova has ONE made field goal outside the paint (a Reynolds three) while Duke is 2-of-11 from deep. Yeah, the defense has been outstanding on both ends, but how long can you hold down offenses this potentially potent?

VILLANOVA 26 DUKE 23 -- HALFTIME-- The fact that Duke is down only three in this game is borderline stunning. To say the Blue Devils haven't gotten many quality looks is like saying a few people dislike the Duke program. It's quite the understatement.

What's the easiest bucket for the Blue Devils so far? Williams' dunk? Singler's three on a secondary break? The seven points from the foul line have kept them in the game.

What's the solution? ATTACK. Of course, easier said than done (but I'm a journalist...that's what I'm here for). Duke spent way too much time dribbling around the perimeter and setting a lot of hitherto ineffective ball screens. Set those screens off the ball, taking advantage of the Wildcats' aggressiveness on helpside; it worked for a floater for Nolan Smith earlier.  Also, don't be afraid to post up. Use the height advantage if Villanova sticks with four guards.

On the plus side, the Blue Devils have gotten Villanova in a little foul trouble (two for Anderson, Reynolds and Stokes), and they've handled the Wildcats' 1-2-2 press without much difficulty (but again, they could capitalize on it more by being more aggressive).

VILLANOVA 24 DUKE 19 -- 2:58 FIRST HALF -- Elliot Williams tried to get the Duke offense started with an explosive drive and dunk for a three-point play, but the Blue Devils have stagnated since. They've run down the shot clock the last few possessions, culminating with a forced Jon Scheyer three each time.

The Wildcats have gone with a four-guard lineup to stretch Duke out and force one of the bigs--Singler, namely--to check someone on the perimeter. It's been fairly effective so far, but the Blue Devils should try to exploit it on the other end, by posting up Singler or Zoubek on the smaller Villanova defenders.

VILLANOVA 17 DUKE 13 -- 7:30 FIRST HALF -- Well, not quite the uptempo high-scoring game we expected, eh? Villanova is dominating the game right now on the defensive end; nothing is coming easy for Duke, which managed a single putback bucket by Zoubek in the last four minutes.

Speaking of Zoubek, his length is bothering Dante Cunningham on the defensive end. Cunningham has just two points, coming on a fast-break dunk. Zoubek right now is being guarded by 6-foot-6 Dwayne Anderson; maybe the Blue Devils should post up the guy with the seven-inch height advantage instead of just using him as an elbow screener. They need to do something to loosen up the Wildcats' defense, and missing seven of eight three-pointers isn't it.

VILLANOVA 13 DUKE 11 -- 11:49 FIRST HALF -- The Blue Devils' offense looks scattered right now; it's basically Jon Scheyer doing everything by himself (check out Scheyer's old-school kicks when you get a chance). The good early sign for Villanova is that it is definitely the aggressor early in the game: 10 of its points have come in the paint--six on dunks. Duke needs to match that attacking attitude. In related news, Gerald Henderson and Nolan Smith--who has two early fouls--are checking in.

VILLANOVA 9 DUKE 5 -- 15:37 FIRST HALF -- Good time for the TV timeout, as the Wildcats have scored nine straight to take a four-point advantage. Villanova is playing a man-to-man that sags a lot and includes a lot of switching and helping--not too dissimilar from Wake Forest, and it almost looks like a matchup zone at times.That's led to a couple turnovers on some soft passes by Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson so far.

As for Duke, the Blue Devils have settled for some open three-point looks, but have missed three of four. You'd like to see them attack a little more, and they need to control the defensive glass. 'Nova already has four second-chance points, which is likely why Mike Krzyzewski inserted Brian Zoubek into the lineup this early. I'm not sure how long Zoubek can stick with Cunningham on the perimeter, though.

JUST BEFORE TIP: The crowd here in Boston sounds decidedly pro-Villanova (or at the least, anti-Duke). There were some loud boos when Duke came out, and louder ones still for Gerald Henderson, who spurned the Wildcats as a high schooler.

For the record, a little research turns up this nugget: Karl Hess has refereed five Duke games this season (and 89 in his career) with three Villanova contests this year (and 15 in his career).

PREGAME, still...: My first prediction of the night comes true! Tip time is now set for 10:08 EST. And if my eyes don't deceive me, the official referee of the ACC, Karl Hess, is set to take the floor for the game.

More behind the scenes action: CBS analyst Bill Raftery and Duke transfer Taylor King--in a sharp pinstriped suit--just had a brief but, to the onlooker, amiable conversation.

Projected starting lineups: Singler, Williams, Scheyer, Henderson and Thomas for Duke; Anderson, Clark, Cunningham, Reynolds and Redding for Villanova. In other words, status quo.

PREGAME: We are coming to you LIVE from the epicenter of March Madness in Boston, Mass. at TD Banknorth Garden--easily the second-best garden ever in the city. The crowd is filling in while this BORING Pittsburgh-Xavier game is going on, and we're just about ready to start with the real thing at 9:57 p.m. (HINT: The game will likely not start exactly at 9:57.)

In case you're like me and have a bunch of friends at Villanova, the city of Boston offers plentiful opportunities for witty taunts. Example: "Hey 'Nova, hope you're ready for a Boston Three Party! It's gonna be a massacre for the ages!" And so on and so forth.

But sit back, relax, don't worry about having to mute the game because you've got Verne and Raft--the best in the business--calling the game on CBS. And look forward to tomorrow's stories from journalism stars (I like to call them journaluminaries) like Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Mike Lupica, Dick "Hoops" Weiss and of course, your Chronicle buddies.


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