AP: Big 3 Comes Up Big Again for Duke in Final Four
Kyle Singler had 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Saturday’s win over West Virginia.
Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS – Duke's "Big Three" kept hitting big 3s.
Now, the Blue Devils are one win from their fourth national championship.
Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith have carried Duke all season, and after a 78-57 victory over West Virginia on Saturday night in the Final Four, they've brought the program to the brink of its first title since 2001.
"The whole team, we were feeding off each other," Singler said. "We're a very tough team when that happens."
The Blue Devils will play Butler on Monday night, their 10th appearance in the championship game since 1964.
They got there largely because Singler bounced back from one of the worst games of his career with one of his most meaningful, scoring 21 points and hitting three 3-pointers against a Mountaineers defense that appeared to be caught off guard by Duke's knack for tossing rebounds out to the perimeter.
That rebound-and-kick strategy led to 23 points for Scheyer, who was 5 for 9 from 3-point range. Smith finished with 19 points and four 3s.
"We felt comfortable no matter what they did," Scheyer said.
It showed. The Blue Devils hit 13 3s — their most in two months — and shot 52 percent from long range. They've made at least 40 percent of their 3s in four of their five NCAA tournament games.
"All three of our perimeter guys had outstanding shooting games," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We were difficult to guard as a result of that."
This was just the kind of performance Duke has come to expect from a trio that's been the nation's best. Singler, Scheyer and Smith entered combining for about 53 points per game and have scored nearly 69 percent of the team's points.
"There is a responsibility for us to score the ball," Singler said. "We don't really feel like there's any pressure. We feel like there's big guys who complement us."
Indeed, opponents this season quickly figured out they couldn't stop all three. Slowing down two was nearly impossible; only one team held two of them under double digits — Georgia Tech, which beat Duke 71-67 in January.
West Virginia's otherwise tough defense couldn't do it. The Mountaineers, who had held their past 10 opponents to fewer than 70 points and won each of those games, couldn't find answers for any of the Blue Devils' stars.
"Usually, two of them give you points, and a lot of it has to do with the defensive emphasis of the other team," Krzyzewski said. "They might try to take one guy out of it, but today, all three of them ... they worked so well together."
And every time Duke needed a big basket, one of the three was ready to step up and deliver it.
Singler, who missed all 10 of his shots in the South Regional final against Baylor, scored 14 of his team's first 28 points in this one.
Smith — who dedicated the game to his late father, an NCAA champion three decades ago with Louisville — hit 3s on three consecutive trips downcourt during the 16-3 run late in the first half that put the Blue Devils in control.
"I'm playing for myself and I'm playing for my Duke team," Smith said. "I let my mom do all that thinking about my father's footsteps and all that. I'm just playing for Duke basketball now."
After West Virginia made it a two-possession game and threatened to get back in it with less than 16 minutes left, Scheyer swished a 3 from the right corner to make it 49-40. Singler and Scheyer then started the celebration with — what else? — a pair of 3s, with Scheyer's making it 75-57 with about 2 minutes to go.
"It's like a plus," Krzyzewski said. "Especially if all three of the guys are doing it."