The game with NC A&T probably went, in some ways, better than
expected, with Duke winning 93-51. Traditionally, games scheduled during exam breaks are designed
essentially to be glorified scrimmages (such are the perks for the power
conferences: it's not a scrimmage for their opponents). Over the previous few
days, while everyone is engrossed by exams, practice is not a priority, and that
usually shows. While Sunday's game to an extent followed the same script, it
departed in some key areas, notably defense.
Now we realize this is not A&T's finest team. Even on their level
they are struggling, and stepping up to the top floor could mess with anyone.
But Duke did things on defense (particularly in the first half) that one college
team really shouldn't be able to do to another. Duke forced several shot-clock
errors and on numerous occasions swiped the ball when the ballhandler was in a
position (theoretically anyway) to protect it. Williams did it, Duhon did
it, even Boozer did it. Duke made A&T look ridiculous; the defense at
times was remarkable. Even given the difference in the team's rankings it
was impressive. Duke was like a cat with a mouse at times.
The offense, on the other hand, was more typically out of synch. But
that's how exam games usually are.
Jason Williams hit six three pointers in the first half, and despite a zone,
Carlos Boozer was dominant inside. Both are encouraging trends. Everyone
pretty much understood Williams would shoot his way out of his slump, but Boozer
has not always dealt well with being zoned. He did tonight, and not only that,
but in every way he looked like a classic big man. His fundamentals are really
sound - little things, like not bringing the ball down, or how he launches an
outlet pass. Alaskans who want to excel, we have learned, have to do a lot
of individual work, and that was true for Langdon as well as Boozer.
Unlike earlier in his career, Boozer is not disappearing when things get
difficult. He is matching his skills to his talent, and the result is becoming
more and more impressive.
But really, the most interesting aspect of tonight's game was probably the
play of Dahntay Jones.
Dahntay has been a rock on defense, and has become a tremendous
stopper. Offensively, he had struggled until the last two games. Since
Michigan, though, he is averaging about 15 points per game, and his points are
coming in the flow of the offense. He got a lot of points tonight in
transition and on smart plays around the basket. And he also got two amazing
The first was an alley-oop, which, while impressive, is sort of old
hat. Lots of people have done intense alley-oops. But the tomahawk dunk in
the second half was truly impressive. Ewing came downcourt with the ball after a
steal, and by the second half, A&T's defense had become dramatically more
physical (more on that later). Ewing pulled out a tremendous spin move in the
lane, thought about going up, then (to us anyway) looked like he thought he
might take a beating and said the heck with it and passed off to Jones, who
went...up...and up...and up....it was a pretty amazing jam, and we're jaded by
jams, frankly. It was astonishing.
So was A&T's second-half defense. In the first half, Curtis Hunter
had his guys mostly in a zone, saying he wasn't sure they could manage
man-to-man against Duke. In the second, though, they did play man-to-man,
and to say it was physical would be a tremendous understatement: it was, at
times, brutal. Casey Sanders went up for a basket at one point - and went
down faster than he went up. The official called a relatively rare
intentional foul. Williams, Duhon, Dunleavy, Jones and Boozer were all
mugged at various times. Tempers flared a bit periodically, and
unfortunately there were injuries: Williams suffered a mild groin pull, and
Dunleavy rolled his ankle in the first two minutes of the game, and aggravated
it again in the second half. Not good. Horvath sat out after a hip injury
and will not play against Kentucky.
The defense, while brutal, was effective, and chances are some other schools
will copy it. What was interesting was who came in and stood up to the
rougher tactics and, in essence, broke that gambit's effectiveness: Matt
When K challenged the team's energy in an earlier game, Christensen bellowed,
"I've got energy!" and then went out and proved it. In Sunday's
game, he performed a similar role. There was no pushing him around, and he
gave better than he got. Let's face it: Matt has limited mobility, which
is not helped by his knees, and consequently doesn't shoot well. But what he can
do better than anyone else on this team is to bang, and bang he did. He
pretty much put an end to the most extremely physical defense, all by himself.
Someone else who probably made an impression on A&T was Casey Sanders,
who had a lot of fun blocking shots. You see it more and more in recent
games: someone drives, goes up - and there is this long arm two feet over
them. There's just not much you can do, and Casey's swats are starting to
Chris Duhon, in some ways, didn't have his best game - he had too many
turnovers - but afterwards K said that he had them because he was trying to
involve people in the game, rather than take the easy assist, and so he wasn't
upset. Wrong execution, right impulse. No biggie. Duhon is
also starting to get quite fiery. At one point, he bobbled a steal and
exploded a bit (note to Chris: channel it. They could have scored while you were
emoting). At one point later in the second half, and we're thinking of one
particular possession here, Duhon put on some of the most intimidating ball
defense we have ever seen. He was attached to his man like he was his own
shadow. There was no escape.
Another note worth mentioning - Reggie Love got in in the first half, which
is somewhat surprising, and here's why: you have to really work hard in practice
at Duke to prove yourself. Love comes in with a relatively short amount of
time in practice (only since football season ended), and there he is in the
game. It emphasizes two things to us: 1) he must be doing well in practice, and
2) Coach K plans on using him a lot. This is a bit of a departure. Duke
has had other guys from other teams who could play a bit - Jay Heaps, of course,
and D Bryant for a year. There's no question that Love is emerging as the
best "walk-on" of Krzyewski's career, and there's no question he can
play, but come on: the man has never taken to relying on part-timers and has
never counted on them in game situations. Coach K had tremendous admiration for
Jay Heaps and his leadership - we wondered if Duke would have beaten UConn if
Heaps had been around, honestly - but his contributions were in practice and the
locker room primarily. Love is different. He has an impact on the game,
and he is extremely unselfish. And Duke will be short-handed against
Kentucky. K said he expects Dunleavy to play, but Horvath will not. Love
could be very helpful.
Basically, what we took away from this game was an appreciation for the very
hard work on the defensive end. It truly was impressive, not least of all
because these break games are usually so ragged. It augurs well for the
rest of the season - as does the recent play of Jones.
Notes - Someone in the crowd shouted "we love you Frances!" when Frances Redding sang the National Anthem...she acknowledged it in a very sweet way...Redding briefly lost contact with the Apex High Band, which filled in for DUMB, at the beginning of the anthem...someone manning a door told us that the new rule which allows no returns to Cameron has been rescinded...he said the announcer forgot to mention it...don't take our word for it, but keep an ear out...Though he had ice strapped to his foot, Dunleavy is expected to be ok for UK, according to Coach K...he said he could have played but no point in making things worse...nice to hear Dahntay Jones address Bob Harris with yes sir, no sir...as a reader pointed out, Duke has both the longest winning streak in basketball and losing streak in football...