Spander: Wisconsin cries foul, physical Duke prevails 

click to enlarge Duke players and coaches celebrate a 68-63 victory over Wisconsin in Monday’s national championship game, the program’s fifth title, all under coach Mike Krzyzewski. - DARRON CUMMINGS/AP
  • Darron Cummings/AP
  • Duke players and coaches celebrate a 68-63 victory over Wisconsin in Monday’s national championship game, the program’s fifth title, all under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Dead in the water. That's what the coach said late Monday night, and the words seemed dead accurate. Duke was nine points down in the second half of its biggest game of the season, and its biggest man, 6-foot-10 Jahlil Okafor, was on bench with four fouls,

But a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team knows something about basketball because Coach K knows a great deal about the game. He knows who and how to recruit. And his players know that defense wins, which in the end it did.

Not that offense from two freshman guards was at all incidental.

First, it was Grayson Allen — "He put us on his back," Krzyzewski would say later — then it was Tyus Jones, who scored 19 of his 23 points after halftime and was named Most Outstanding Player.

And so the Blue Devils won another title for Coach K, their fifth and the third in this city, defeating a game Wisconsin team 68-63.

It was a game that was right there for either the patient Badgers or the aggressive Blue Devils. The oddsmakers called it even, or maybe they had Wisconsin as a 1-point pick.

When it was 48-39 Wisconsin six-plus minutes after the break, it looked like the oddsmakers didn't know jack. When it was 56-56 with five minutes remaining, they looked brilliant. As brilliant as the Duke defense.

The Blue Devils press and swat, grab and pummel, almost all of it within the rules, of course. The Badgers were flummoxed. This wasn't their style, and soon it wasn't their game. In the last 13 minutes, 25 seconds, they scored just 15 points. Sam Dekker missed all six of his field-goal tries in the second half and all six of his 3-pointers in the game.

"It was just a situation where you have to be able to handle all the hands and checking," said coach Bo Ryan, unable to bring the Badgers a second title to the one they earned back in the game's Pleistocene Era, 1941.

"There was more body contact in this game than any game we played all year," Ryan said. "And I just feel sorry for my guys that all of a sudden a game was like that. I think they are struggling with that a little bit.

"We missed some opportunities. They hit some tough shots, but it's a shame it had to be played that way."

A pro-Wisconsin crowd of 71,149 felt the same way, the red-and-white-clad fans having made the 3½-hour trip to grab up tickets after Kentucky was eliminated by their team in Saturday's semifinal game.

But Wisconsin is known for cheese, not sour grapes. A Big Ten Conference team should understand big-time basketball is part wrestling match, part grace. Hasn't that always been the conference of heavy contact? After all, the Badgers' 7-footer, Frank Kaminsky, who scored 21 and grabbed a dozen rebounds, is called "Frank the Tank," even though he may not deserve the nickname.

Wisconsin lost to Duke in December at home in Madison, so the manner and success of the Blue Devils on the court shouldn't have been surprising. They go after the ball. Hard. No easy baskets for the other guys.

"Eight is enough" was the Duke slogan from early in the season, when the squad was reduced to that number by suspensions and injuries. It certainly is when four of the eight are Jones, who also had five rebounds, Allen, who had 16 points (10 after intermission), Justice Winslow (11 points, nine rebounds) and the foul-prone Okafor, who was limited to 20 minutes.

All four are first-year players, and, if the rumors are correct, three — Okafor, Winslow and Jones — won't make it to their second year, instead going to the NBA. Okafor is the probable No. 1 overall pick, and Winslow and Jones won't be far behind him.

"The guys love Grayson," Krzyzewski said. "Once he got us in striking distance, we just said, 'Tyus, run high screen and be you.' That's great coaching, I guess."

Truth be told, it is. Part of coaching is to allow an athlete to play to his strengths without wondering if he's doing the right thing.

"My teammates and the coaching staff have given me the confidence and trusted in me and believed in me all year," Jones said. "There's never been a moment when they doubted me."

There were a few moments when the national audience doubted Duke, but those ended quickly enough.

"Our bench was spectacular," Krzyzewski said. "We said a few months ago, 'Eight is enough.'"

Eight were enough, especially when two were named Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones, kids who refused to act their age.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

About The Author

Art Spander

Art Spander

Bio:
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
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