Brian Zoubek didn't get much attention in the Bears' pregame defensive planning for Sunday's NCAA South Regional second-round game.JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – California coach Mike Montgomery readily admitted that Duke big man
"Individually, we weren't very concerned about his one-on-one moves. That's not how he hurts you, but he can hurt you," Montgomery said.
In a 68-53 win that sent the Blue Devils (31-5) to Houston's Reliant Stadium for a Friday appointment opposite Purdue in the South semifinals, the 7-foot-1, 260-pound senior yet again came up as big as his frame.
This time, Zoubs rang 'em up for 14 points, 13 rebounds and a small world of territorial inconvenience, all in a modest 23 minutes of playing time.
"No one should be surprised by what he does anymore," Duke star Kyle Singler said. "Zoubs is a big factor for us every time out. That's the player he is now."
Moreover, it's getting to the point that Zoubek has the timing touch of a regular psychic. If one of the Big Three — Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith — has a bad game, Zoubek steps up.
Against the Pacific-10 Conference Bears (24-11) in Veterans Memorial Arena, it was Scheyer's day in the fog. The senior guard missed 10 of 11 shots and finished with only seven points, enough to get him past the 2,000 career mark but nine below his scoring average.
"I don't know what was wrong with me today, but I know there was nothing wrong with Brian," Scheyer said. "He was great all day."
Eight minutes in, Zoubek had four points — one on a 12-foot hook shot— to go with three rebounds and a blocked shot. From there, the stat-sheet stuffing only intensified.
"It felt good, well, great really," he said. "I think the reason I made that hook could have been because I was so far out they didn't think I would shoot. But I've got a pretty good right hook, so I took it. But the big thing was it didn't end for us. We just want to keep playing."
Although Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski rated the defensive work against California's outside shooters as one of the best efforts of the season by his team, the offense has been a lot sharper a lot of times this season. The bench production was limited to eight points — six from Miles Plumlee — and 3-pointers were virtually nonexistent.
The Bears were never able to make a serious run against the Duke defensive edge, but the door was at least partially open for the Devils to join five other ACC teams in the See-Ya Bracket.
A perfectly miserable season for the conference — other than Duke — was punctuated earlier Sunday when Georgia Tech and Maryland went the way of Florida State, Clemson and Wake Forest. North Carolina and Virginia Tech are hanging on in the NIT, but only Duke is left to represent the ACC entering the second weekend of the NCAA.
Informed of his team's distinction in the ACC, Scheyer was surprised. So were Singler and Lance Thomas, none of whom knew Georgia Tech and Maryland had fallen earlier Sunday.
"I hate to hear that," Scheyer said. "I was thinking Georgia Tech had a really good chance today (against Ohio State), and Maryland (against Michigan State). This is a tough tournament, and it can end for anyone fast. It's not easy to keep going."
But it's actually unfolding the same way it's been going for several weeks. It was clear by the end of January that Duke was the ACC's only bona fide — the lone league team with the right combination of personnel, poise and coaching to make a deep run in March.
Late March is here. The Devils are still around. And the longer they last, the larger Zoubek looms as a problem for Duke opponents.