Mike Krzyzewski dislikes when Duke teams that stumble early in the NCAA Tournament are labeled underachievers.JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –
The top-seeded Blue Devils are back in the round of 16 after beating California 68-53 Sunday, playing the trademark man-to-man defense that's been essential to the success of Krzyzewski teams for three decades.
That, he said, is what makes this squad a contender to accomplish something special.
"We're a better team this year. I don't know if we'll go any further, but this is a better team because it can play total defense," Krzyzewski said after extending his record for victories in the NCAA's to 73 and earning his 19th trip to the round of 16.
"Someone will say in the past, well, they relied on the 3-point shot. Well, what else were we going to rely on? We relied on it enough to win 30 games. Just because then you lose, doesn't mean those kids underachieved. They maxed. This team is better. It's not a great team, but it's an excellent defensive team that hopefully can be a little bit better offensively as we go forward."
The Blue Devils (31-5) advanced to a South Regional semifinal in Houston against fourth-seeded Purdue despite going 3 for 17 on 3-point attempts and getting just seven points from leading scorer Jon Scheyer on 1-of-11 shooting.
Nolan Smith led the Blue Devils (31-5) with 20 points and spearheaded the defensive effort on Cal's high-scoring trio of Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson.
Hounded by Smith, Randle — the Pac-10 player of the year — was limited to 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
"They just tried to take the ball out of my hands as much as possible," the Cal star said. "They crowded me coming off ball screens."
Duke also exploited a huge advantage in size and depth in the frontcourt, with 7-foot-1 center Brian Zoubek scoring 14 points and grabbing 13 rebounds while teaming with Lance Thomas and reserves Miles and Mason Plumlee to dominate a short-handed Cal frontline featuring 6-foot-8 Duke transfer Jamal Boykin — and little else.
Kyle Singler scored 17 for Duke. Zoubek's 6-for-6 shooting more than made up for Scheyer's struggles.
"This team has so much talent and so much potential. Every game somebody steps up, and that's the exciting thing about this team," Smith said. "We might not shoot good every game, but we play defense and play hard, and any game somebody is going to surprise you."
With starting forward Omondi Amoke suspended for an unspecified team violation, Cal (24-11) once again went with a three-guard lineup that overwhelmed Louisville in the opening round because of exceptional 3-point shooting.
Krzyzewski said he couldn't remember the Blue Devils facing a team with so many players capable of stretching a defense. But Cal's lack of size and depth under the basket hurt the Golden Bears all day.
Boykin, who transferred from Duke after spending a little more than a season with the Blue Devils, led Cal with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Randle had 12 points and Robertson 10, but the Golden Bears misfired on nine of 12 3-point attempts and Christopher was held to two points — 14 below his average.
"They just seemed to know our playbook," Boykin said. "The scouting report, they executed it to a tee."
Scheyer's shooting woes over the past seven games are a mystery, though Krzyzewski is not concerned.
"Jon wants it so badly that I think he's making every shot bigger than they are. I really believe that. It comes from a good place," the coach said.
"In our business or in any business, you want people who have great attitudes. His attitude is so good that sometimes I think he just puts too much pressure on himself."
Krzyzewski said he didn't speak about how important was to not look past Cal because that's not what beat Kansas.
"What we pointed out was that the reason Kansas lost was two of Northern Iowa's kids took charges in the last few minutes. So any one of you guys could take a charge and it might win a game," the coach said.
"Our theme ... is that those are the kind of plays that the winning teams will make going forward. The other team didn't make losing plays; you have to make winning plays in this tournament."