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Wildcats Claw Out An Upset Over Duke In Cameron, 78-73

Arizona won because the Wildcats played better together, rebounded better and made less mistakes than Duke did

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Duke
Nov 10, 2023; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Arizona Wildcats forward Keshad Johnson (16) is fouled by Duke Blue Devils guard Jared McCain (0) during the first half at Cameron Indoor Stadium. 
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

That wasn’t as much fun as it could be: Arizona came to Cameron and took down Duke, 78-73.

Arizona played like a stronger, more confident and more mature team, which really showed up in rebounding: the Wildcats grabbed 45 total to Duke’s 33 and killed the Devils on the offensive boards, 15-8. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

And unfortunately, Duke just made a lot of mistakes. They weren’t necessarily the kind of mistakes that result in turnovers or even necessarily obvious mistakes. Sometimes it was shooting too fast. On a couple of occasions Duke took shots that not only seemed rushed, but also seemed to come when no one was nearly close enough to rebound. Sometimes it was forcing a pass that wasn’t there. And sometimes it was being a step out of place defensively.

And at times there was a hesitancy, a lack of aggression.

There’s going to be a lot of film work after this one as Jon Scheyer and his staff identify the obvious and less obvious mistakes, and we’re talking mostly about offense here. Duke is probably ahead on defense, but there were some mental lapses there as well.

It’s interesting that Scheyer went with essentially a seven-man rotation. the starters plus Ryan Young and Caleb Foster. Jaylen Blakes, Christian Reeves and Sean Stewart played but not extensively.

Duke’s second half performance, it must be said, was much better than the first. Duke showed more fight and fire and played Arizona on more even terms and, at times, played better.

The mistakes continued though: a rushed shot here when Duke had drawn close, a poorly conceived pass there that was picked off.

Perhaps the most damaging mistake was when Tyrese Proctor drove the lane and traveled with :28 left and Duke down 70-69. Arizona shot 6-6 from the line down the stretch, with four of those by former UNC Tar Heel Caleb Love.

And let’s revisit a question we had about Love’s transfer, which was this: was his season last year at UNC such a disaster because he is a reckless offensive performer, who took deep threes like a hypochondriac swallows pills? Or was it because Hubert Davis did a poor job coaching him?

Based on Friday night, we’d have to say the fault lies with Davis, because while Love did take a three or two that he might have thought more about, overall, he played within the system and was an asset for Arizona.

Okay, let’s get back to the rebounding.

We don’t know what Mike Krzyzewski would have done specifically because we lack his decades of experience and sophisticated knowledge. However, based on previous observations, Coach K would spot a weakness on his team and tell his players something like this: We are having trouble rebounding and it hurt us. We need one guy to step up and claim that role. I don’t care who does it, but whoever does will increase his role.

And the guy on this team who is probably best suited to it is Sean Stewart. However, Stewart likely has some growing up to do. On at least two occasions, we saw teammates tell him what he was doing wrong. In Kyle Filipowski’s case, he actually physically moved Stewart into the right position.

We all mature at our own rates and that’s certainly true for Stewart. But clearly he has some things to learn before he becomes a reliable contributor.

That’s true to a lesser extent for Caleb Foster. He didn’t hurt Duke much, but it was his first big game and he was hesitant. That’ll change.

And that’s true for Jared McCain as well. We saw some brilliant flashes from the freshman. He came downcourt on a break and confidently nailed a three at one point. At another he stripped a much bigger player under the basket. We’re not comparing him to Kobe Bryant talent-wise so don’t read that into this, but his presence reminded us in some weird way of Kobe’s. You know what it is?

Like Kobe, McCain has swagger.

Like Foster, he’s probably going to grow very quickly. Down the stretch we kept thinking, get the ball to McCain. He’s a gamer. Let’s see what he can do under pressure.

That will come soon enough.

It wasn’t a fun loss obviously, but we’d rather lose to Arizona than - and no offense to the Big Green when we say this - to play Dartmouth again.

Arizona is a talented team. Duke was just not on their level yet. Despite that, Duke could have, and arguably should have won Friday night.

There will be other nights though and when this team grows some, it will know how to make those winning plays.

Notes - as much as we see in young McCain, it would be better if he were not the third leading rebounder for Duke...Mitchell, Proctor and McCain combined to shoot 2-13 from three point range...Jeremy Roach was 3-5 from deep, outshooting the trio by haven’t seen Jaden Schutt yet this season and you won’t as Duke has partly solved the loaded backcourt issue by opting to redshirt the sophomore...the Boozer twins sat just to the right of Duke’s bench and got to see Cameron in a hungry if frustrated mood...Love finished with 11 points in his Cameron return shooting 3-10 and with four of those points coming at the line as time ran out for the Blue Devils...he also had six turnovers...this was Jon Scheyer’s first home loss as Duke’s head coach...