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A Fan In The Stands In Alaska!

Richard sent us his impressions of the Duke-Pacific game, along with the cool photo. Thanks Richard!

Duke began the evening with the crowd in their corner, but a tenacious Pacific team won over those inclined to support an underdog, and earned the crowd’s respect, and Duke’s tonight. If there was a traveling Duke delegation present, it was remarkably quiet. Catherine and I wondered whether Duke fans were becoming blasé, or was it the fact that they had been a bit excessively chilled? Temperatures in Anchorage this Thanksgiving Day ranged in the single digits on both sides of the zero mark. The Anchorage West High Band showed more spirit than the traveling Iron Dukes, and they were playing not only “Devil With a Blue Dress”, but the fight song and the alma mater.

Luol Deng won the Player of the Game award, and staked a claim on all-Tournament honors tonight. He can shoot from anywhere, his presence forced Pacific players to alter their shots, and his long arms are not only rangy ­ they’re quick. He’s a rebounding force as much by reach as physicality. When he made mistakes it was because he tried to do too much with the ball, and he seemed to show a freshman big man’s tendency to put the ball on the floor. Pacific’s zone kept him a bit farther from the basket than he would have liked, but he responded to that with a sweet stroke that vexed the Tigers all evening.

on the photo for the larger version, which is very, very cool

Shavlik Randolph mixed it up with gusto all night. Though it’s reported he’s bulked up, he still looks skinny next to Shelden or Nick, but obviously Shav’s bigger bod has given him an additional measure of confidence. He banged around, a great many times with what was almost a smile on his face. Shav, too, tried to handle the ball too much a couple of times, and his passing in traffic could stand some improvement, although in his defense, this Duke team is not yet in mid-season form with respect to offensive help. The “T” on Shav was preposterous, by the way. Shav was truly trying to avoid dive bombing other players, and the crowd responded to the call with Cameron sentiment, if not volume.

That said, by the Ranger’s tally, it was four minutes into this game before Duke had a second chance opportunity on offense. Pacific’s zone defense, its heart, and the early game control of the lane by Christian Maraker, Guillaume Yango, and Tyler Newton, kept the Devils in a one-and-done mode for long periods in this game. Maraker is a Swede, and Yango and Newton are JUCO transfers, which shows that Tiger Head Coach Bob Thomason casts a pretty wide net for his talent. In fact, for a team that is half transfers, Pacific plays well together, and unquestionably the Tigers were up for this game. Their big second half run from a twenty point deficit against a team of Duke’s reputation showed serious bravado, and I hope is a performance from which they’ll draw inspiration this season. Duke did not have this game wrapped until Deng and Ewing hit their threes late in the second half.

J.J. never quite got unleashed, but a good part of the credit there goes to Pacific’s Miah Davis. J.J. uncorked a couple of textbook jumpers in the early minutes, earning admiring remarks from the crowd around us. A UOP timeout not quite half way into the first half must have been where Tiger Coach Bob Thomason asked Davis to put a glove on Redick, and most of J.J.’s points after that came on free throws. That said, it’s good to see that he has added enhanced mobility to his arsenal. His 3 pointer at about 11:40 in the first half was a self-created opportunity, and a thing of beauty to see. The focus on J.J., though, created opportunities for Daniel that he exploited after a bit of a cold start. In the middle minutes of this game, it may have been Daniel’s slashing consistency that won this game for the Devils. While Deng may have been more noticeable on both ends of the court, Daniel’s points were key to building the large lead that Duke had ­ before the Tigers crawled back into the game possession by possession. This was a physical game, with a lot of hand checking and bumping out on the perimeter, and Pacific never let Duke’s backcourt players erupt into a patented Duke run from outside.

Shelden had a better game than his line score might indicate. Four blocked shots (that should have included a fifth ­ a goal tending call against Shelden in the first half drew another round of boos), four rebounds, five assists and three steals, along with 13 points, make a good night’s work. Shelden was in the middle of everything, played tirelessly, and probably fouled out only because the refs simply saw his big body every time they looked toward the trapezoidal key. He’s still a work in progress, but I have a hunch that a couple of UOP players are glad they don’t have to face Shelden again.

Chris Duhon played all forty minutes, not putting all that much on the score sheet, but seeming to provide a lot of leadership. Interestingly, it seemed like there were more Duke substitutions than the box score indicates. What is clear, though is that Pacific mined its bench pretty thoroughly throughout the night, and a bit of rest may have been a factor in the Tigers’ late second half comeback.

We’ve seen prettier Duke wins, but this was a “W” against a scrappy team whose players kept their heads in the game and played with desire for 40 minutes. Worse things could happen than for the Devils to have a game like tonight’s on their November record. A lot of teachable moments, many from an unheard-of opponent from an unknown California town, Stockton (though Creedence got their start there as a bar band), that should have earned respect from Devil fans tonight.