NCAA Tournament: Stunning end for Duke

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 25, 2011

By Luke DeCock
Raleigh News & Observer
ANAHEIM, Calif. ó In the space of nine minutes, Dukeís pursuit of a second straight national title, a potential 12th trip to the Final Four, Nolan Smithís Naismith Award campaign and the Kyrie Irving comeback all evaporated with stunning quickness.
A season that began with such optimism ended in a blurry flurry of dunks and 3-pointers as Arizona came out to open the second half and blew the Blue Devils right off the floor. By the time it ended, Smith and Kyle Singler werenít even on the floor, having left the game with two minutes to go, and the outcome long ago out of doubt.
The final minutes of Thursdayís 93-77 loss to Arizona passed quickly as the Wildcats dominated Duke the way Duke dominates Big South teams that walk gingerly into Cameron Indoor Stadium and stagger out.
ěAll of a sudden, you just canít stop them,î Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ěThey were phenomenal in the second half. We just couldnít stop them.î
As omens go, Singler hitting his first two 3-pointers for Duke wasnít bad. Watching Irving play like it was November again might have been a little bit better one. It still wasnít enough to get Krzyzewski a postseason win on the West Coast.
Krzyzewskiís pursuit of Bobby Knight stalled Thursday at 900 wins, but not one of those 900 came in an NCAA Tournament game in the Pacific time zone. Eight years after Dukeís season ended in this very same round on this very same floor, it happened again.
Nick Collison scored 33 for Kansas that night in 2003; Derrick Williams did the honors for Arizona on Thursday with 32, but it wasnít until the Wildcats went away from Williams and started taking the ball to the rim that the tide turned for them.
Even after watching Kemba Walker light up San Diego State for 36 in the opening game, itís hard to imagine one player doing more than Williams did in the first half for Arizona. Williams dominated inside, stepped out to hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer and scored 25 in the first half, and the Wildcats were still trying to figure out how to close a six-point gap.
They figured it out to open the second, or maybe Duke did it for them. With the Blue Devils preoccupied with Williams, his teammates outscored the Blue Devils 26-9 ó at will, really ó and Williams chipped in a pair to open an 11-point lead.
Duke never recovered.
Not even Irving could save the Devils this time, and certainly not Smith nor Singler, who won a national championship together last season, but lost their way Thursday.
ěIím disappointed for them, especially for the two guys on my left,î Krzyzewski said, gesturing to Singler and Smith. ěLook, the tournament is cruel ó itís an abrupt end for everybody when you donít win.î
Smith, who carried the Blue Devils to so many wins over the final two years of his career, finished with eight points on 3-for-14 shooting.
By the time Singler picked up his fourth foul with 10:40 still to play, it was clear that Dukeís season would fizzle out west.
Since the adoption of the ěpodî system in 2002, teams from the eastern half of the country given No. 1 seeds in the West Regional havenít had a lot of luck. With Dukeís loss, only two of those six made it to the Final Four.
Smith and Singler are done. Irving is likely done as well. Next yearís team will be a different one, with plenty of new faces and without those two faces that became so familiar over the past four years.

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