Sports can be overly complicated. They do involve layers of complexity, but on some occasions, the natural talent of great athletes easily flows into the rhythm of a game. Players see how the game is being played and respond in a very instinctive way. Such was the case on Saturday in the clash between the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Cavaliers.
It is in this vein that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke after his star freshmen powered the Blue Devils to an 81-71 win over the Hoos. The emphatic victory put Duke in the ACC lead, tied with North Carolina.
Coach K felt his players took charge of their own situation without needing to be held by the hand.
“My players felt it,” Krzyzewski said. “That little bit of room — they took advantage of it without any kind of coaching.”
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Krzyzewski was speaking of the room Virginia’s defense gave to Duke on the perimeter. The Cavaliers, knowing that Duke hit just two 3-pointers three weeks ago in the first meeting between these teams this season, played Duke for the shot and tried to take away the drive. Duke realized UVA was giving up threes, so it decided to take them.
It made them, and the contours of this contest were immediately shaped.
Duke bolted to a big lead (29-15), watched Virginia rally to trim its deficit to four points (39-35) at halftime, and then continued to shoot well in the second half. The Blue Devils finished 13 of 21 from 3-point range, a devastating display Virginia had no answer for. Duke hustled for loose balls and made sure Virginia couldn’t collect extra possessions in the attempt to mount a rally. Krzyzewski’s young pups played like veterans on the road. As a result, Duke is sitting pretty in the ACC with North Carolina having to face Virginia on Monday.
Whether it was R.J. Barrett’s 26 points, Zion Williamson’s astounding shot block of a De’Andre Hunter three for Virginia, or Tre Jones’s floor game (seven assists, six rebounds, two steals), Duke’s freshmen very naturally reacted to the needs of various situations. They played with a level of poise which — coupled with the enormous talent on the roster — makes the Blue Devils a leading candidate for a No. 1 seed in March and a favorable path to the national championship.
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