Home Cookin': Winslow propels Duke basketball past Utah in return to Houston

Swingman Justise Winslow made sure his homecoming was sweet, leading his team to Sunday's Elite Eight matchup with No. 2 seed Gonzaga Friday night.
Swingman Justise Winslow made sure his homecoming was sweet, leading his team to Sunday's Elite Eight matchup with No. 2 seed Gonzaga Friday night.

HOUSTON—Justise Winslow's homecoming could not have been sweeter.

A day after celebrating his 19th birthday in his hometown, Winslow led Duke at both ends of the floor as the top-seeded Blue Devils toppled fifth-seeded Utah 63-57 in the second South Regional semifinal at NRG Stadium. The freshman forward scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds Friday as Duke earned a matchup with No. 2 seed Gonzaga and a spot in the Elite Eight Sunday afternoon.

"Justise all week has been upbeat, excited—he was ready to embrace the role of being a hometown hero," sophomore guard Matt Jones said.

After a late 9-0 run had the Runnin' Utes within striking distance in the closing minutes, Winslow bore his head down and drove the lane, banking in a runner plus the foul with 3:44 remaining in the game to give Duke a 52-43 lead.

Aggressive drives to the basket have been Winslow's forte all season.

But Utah refused to go quietly. Junior guard Brandon Taylor caught fire, scoring 10 consecutive points for the Runnin' Utes to cut his team's deficit to 60-55 with 20 seconds remaining. Late conversions from the free-throw line allowed the Blue Devils (32-4) to hold off a charging Utah squad and advance.

After the game, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski credited his guards with their poise from the line. The Blue Devils scored their last 12 points of the contest from the charity stripe and shot 20-for-26 the game.

On a night where 3-pointers were not falling for the Blue Devils, it was Winslow who knocked down the team's only three shots from beyond the arc. After trailing 27-22 at the half, Utah emerged from the locker room with a rejuvenated offensive intensity, putting pressure on its opponent to respond.

Winslow wasted no time in doing just that and silencing the crowd, calmly knocking down 3-pointers from the right wing on two straight possessions to give Duke a 41-32 advantage and put momentum squarely back in the Blue Devils' corner.

"I just felt very comfortable out there," said Winslow, who estimated about 100 of his family and friends were on hand for Friday's game. "It's just really special when you can look out beyond the bench and see your mom and siblings."

Playing in a cavernous football stadium, depth perception appeared to cause an issue for all team's shooters at the South Regional semifinals. Winslow was the only one who was locked in from 3-point range, knocking down 3-of-4 attempts while his teammates failed to connect for the entire game.

Justise Winslow made all three of Duke's 3-pointers Friday.

"[My 3-point shooting] wasn't there early on in my basketball career," Winslow said. "Coach tells me throughout the season, 'stay aggressive, try to get to the basket. If they're sagging off, shoot my bullets.'"

After Gonzaga and UCLA combined to shoot 6-for-32 from long range in Friday's first semifinal matchup, Duke and Utah took the floor not only struggling to hit from downtown—but to find the bottom of the net at all.

The Runnin' Utes (26-9) opened the game 0-for-11 from the floor, while the Blue Devils mustered just one for their first six. Neither team broke into the scoring column before Winslow hit a free-throw 1:56 into the contest, and nearly four minutes had passed by before center Jahlil Okafor laid it in for the game's first field goal.

With its offense struggling, Duke set the tone on the defensive end, forcing 15 Utah turnovers on the evening. A key sequence in the first half came when redshirt junior center Marshall Plumlee and freshman guard Grayson Allen combined to force a rushed pass with a well-timed double team. Freshman point guard Tyus Jones scooped up the ball and pushed the pace, laying it in on the other end. Jones then called for the Blue Devils' zone press and forced a 10-second violation, giving Duke major momentum leading 25-17 with 3:27 remaining in the half.

Senior guard Quinn Cook handled the task of defending rangy 6-foot-5 guard Delon Wright with relative ease, holding the All-American to just 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

A solid defensive effort helped send the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight.

"I thought our defense was just outstanding. That's the third straight game in the tournament that we've played great defense," Krzyzewski said. "They've gotten a bum rap really for not being able to play defense. We wouldn't win over 30 games unless we're playing good defense."

The Blue Devils will look to use their defense to stymie one of the nation's most balanced offenses when they tip off against the Bulldogs Sunday at 5:05 p.m. with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Duke has not been to the Final Four since 2010, when it also won its last national title.


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