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Corbin VanDeWege on the UCLA game

There was a surprising Duke turnout in Indianapolis tonight for the Wooden Tradition games. Duke blue could be clearly seen speckling the red and gold of the local favorites of Purdue and Louisville. I saw several blue-painted faces and a row of boys with D-U-K-E painted across their collective chests. Having grown up in Indiana, I can assure you that this is a huge shift from past Hoosier sentiment on the matter (unless most of the crazies were imports). My wife Julie even spotted a DBR hat as we were all shuffling into the arena, which was gone again before we could catch it on film. Duke had a MUCH bigger fan base in Indy than their opponents did, perhaps in part because UCLA has not offered much for its fans to cheer for this season.

Before commenting on the general play and specifics of the game, I feel it is only fair to say that until the last 8 minutes I watched the game from what felt like the rafters and therefore missed a lot of the nuances that those closer to the floor experienced.

The overall tempo and demeanor of the first half was subdued, much to my dismay. Being my first live Duke game, I was looking forward to a little floor slapping. Duke's starters (Duhon, Dahntay, Shav, Sheldon and Ewing) played lackluster defense and passive offense against UCLA's short lived attempt at a zone. So much so that after several minutes, and an early 12-2 UCLA lead, Coach K subbed out everyone but Duhon and inserted team 2. This is where Duke started demonstrating what makes them a top ten team (if you believe the rankings). Casey, Horvath, Redick and Dockery entered the scene fired up and ready to kick butt,. The next two possessions led to 4 points by a confident Horvath and a much greater defensive presence as Duke scored 13 straight.

Other highlights of the first half include 4 straight threes by Redick (I believe), continuous substitutions and a surprisingly minor showing from Shav, who ended the game with 0 points and 8 minutes! I am not sure what the story is from him. Jason Kapono was alternately guarded by Dahntay and Redick, as well as Ewing at one point (I think) with much success. In the closing moments of the first half as Duke held for the last shot Duke fans finally pulled it together to the tune of a resounding "Let's Go Duke" chant that lasted until time expired. Duke 40, UCLA 33

The second half started with Duhon, Redick, Horvath, Ewing, and Sanders. Defensive intensity was up on both sides as UCLA started to pressure the ball as it came up court. This tactic elicited several turnovers from Duke, who didn't seem to know who was going to take the ball up the court. It was during the second half that my wife pointed out to me how poorly Duke was playing down low, and conversely how little of the offense was being funneled through the post. This is revealed by the combined 7 points from Shav, Sanders and Sheldon during the course of the game against a relatively weak UCLA post presence. Horvath was the exception to this, scoring 17 points on drives, put backs and smart plays. Nevertheless, even Horvath did not present someone that required special attention in the post. 90% of Duke's offense came off of guard shooting and penetration.

As the outcome of the game became evident, coach K allowed Andy Means to get a few touches in front of his hometown crowd in Indianapolis, to which he received much applause.

On an interesting note, as the game neared its conclusion the Louisville fans eager for their own match started spelling out CARDS and easily overwhelmed the modest Duke support in the building. It was like listening to one game while watching another as the Cardinal cheers had nothing to do with the timing of the game at hand.

A few players deserve special mention.

Horvath, as mentioned earlier, provided a much needed spark and SOLID play throughout the game contributing 16 points on 70% shooting and no turnovers. It is great to see him come go through the metamorphosis from bench encourager to crunch time contributor.

Redick is my man. I think that he has a lot to contribute to Duke and will provide the passion necessary to accomplish great things, in the tradition of Battier and Wojo before him. JJ was on the court almost the entire game tonight, pouring himself into the great endeavor that is Duke basketball, doing the small things that only coaches notice (boxing out, following his shot, sticking with the play). One very important strength that JJ has demonstrated tonight is the ability and willingness to take the (almost extinct) midrange jumper. The current culture of college basketball allows for only two options on offense: Shooting the "tri-fecta" or taking it strong to the hole. This leaves a huge gap in the middle that JJ is going to exploit all year if he keeps his head on straight.

Casey continues to improve and provide quality minutes tonight when coach K needed them.

Dockery was one of the few devils out there up in the face of UCLA on defense and I give him all Kudos for that. He does need to work on his judgment as several times he forced his teammates to pick up his defensive slack as he picked himself off the floor after going after a steal.

The ability of Duke to win this game without any real post scoring production is both a testament to how deep and skilled this team is, and how much more they can improve.

Thanks for letting me ramble on about a team I adore.