Duke goes back to Final FourThe Associated Press
HOUSTON — Mike Krzyzewski insisted all along the drought didn’t bother him.
Sure, he hadn’t been to a Final Four since 2004. But there was no need to put extra pressure on this Duke team just because the last five fell short.
Hey, Coach K, look who’s chasing another national championship.
Duke restored some order to a topsy-turvy NCAA tournament on Sunday, getting a career-high 29 points from Nolan Smith in a 78-71 victory over Baylor that put Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils back in college basketball’s biggest event.
“It’s not about the moments that I’ve been in, it’s the moments that your players put you in right now,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m really happy for this group. … It’s as close a team as I’ve had. You want great things to happen for people who are great with us.”
Jon Scheyer added five 3-pointers and scored 20 for Duke, ending Baylor’s run to redemption in the South Regional final. The Blue Devils became the only No. 1 seed to advance to Indianapolis and earned their 11th Final Four berth under Krzyzewski.
“I don’t know if it’s a relief, but it’s nice that no one can say anymore that we haven’t been to a Final Four in so many years,” Kyle Singler said.
Now, Singler and his teammates get the chance at a championship that every player who goes through the program expects to have.
“I don’t know that it’s fully hit me,” said Scheyer, one of the three Duke seniors. “I’m sure after the year I’ll have a better appreciation. But right now, I’m just ecstatic.”
Smith hit the tiebreaking 3 with 3:33 remaining immediately after missing a free throw. Senior forward Lance Thomas grabbed the rebound — one of Duke’s 17 offensive boards after halftime.
“I can’t put it into words,” Thomas said. “It took us four years to get here and we’re not done yet.”
The Blue Devils will play East Regional champion West Virginia in the national semifinals Saturday night. They have won 11 of their last 12 regional finals under Krzyzewski, but haven’t won a national title since 2001.
Coach K made his first Final Four with Duke in 1986 and hadn’t had a gap this long between trips.
To end the drought, Duke had to win at Reliant Stadium — only 3 1/2 hours from Baylor’s campus. Most of the crowd of 47,492 was dressed in the green and gold of the Bears.
“We played against a great team,” Krzyzewski said. “It was such a well-played game, and we were fortunate to win.”
Smith and Scheyer helped the Blue Devils (33-5) offset a poor game from Singler, who was 0 for 10 from the field and made only five free throws. It was the first time in his college career the junior forward failed to hit a field goal.
LaceDarius Dunn had 22 points and Ekpe Udoh scored 18 for the third-seeded Bears (28-8), whose program was in shambles when coach Scott Drew took over in the wake of murder and scandal less than seven years ago.
Drew took the Bears from tatters to the cusp of their first Final Four appearance in 60 years. After three consecutive 20-win seasons and an inspiring postseason run, maybe Baylor can be recognized more for its success now than the tragic summer of 2003 that is finally starting to feel like a long time ago.
“I really hope so and I really feel it has,” Drew said, his voice quivering. “I do really want to thank all the fans in the state of Texas.”
After tying the game for the 12th time on a free throw with 3:36 left, Smith missed his second attempt. But Thomas grabbed one of his nine rebounds and quickly passed the ball right back to Smith, who hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to put Duke up 64-61.
Scheyer then extended the lead to six with his fifth 3-pointer.
“Those two 3s in a row, by Nolan and then Jon, those were big-time plays,” Krzyzewski said. “The big guys kicked it out and those are the best 3s to take.”
And the long-range shots were the best for Duke against Baylor’s tenacious zone defense featuring a combination of a 7-footer and a pair of 6-10 players.
The Blue Devils made 11 of 23 3-pointers (48 percent) — and shot only 11 of 38 from inside the arc.
But they didn’t need a miracle shot on the 18th anniversary of Christian Laettner’s game-winner against Kentucky in the 1992 tournament.
With Baylor desperately trying to get the ball back after a turnover by Tweety Carter, there was a scuffle by the sideline following a whistle and Quincy Acy was called for a technical foul. Scheyer hit both free throws, pushing the lead to 10 with 1:19 left.
The fairy-tale ending wasn’t meant to be for the Bears — at least this year.
“It’s not over for this program. It was a great season,” said Dunn, the junior guard who had obviously shed tears before the postgame interview. “Teammates should hold their head up high and be proud of the things we accomplished this year.”
Carter and Acy had 12 points each for Baylor. Udoh had 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
Drew was 32 when he was hired and had been a head coach only one season, winning 20 games at Valparaiso after nine years there as his father’s assistant. He had to rebuild in the powerful Big 12 with reduced scholarships and a roster decimated by the transfers of the top three scorers after that tragic summer in 2003 when Patrick Dennehy was shot to death by a teammate.
Baylor made it to the NCAA tournament two years ago, when it lost in the first round to Purdue, and to the NIT championship game last April.
The Bears were picked 10th in the preseason poll by the Big 12 coaches at the beginning of this season after losing three 1,000-point scorers to graduation. But they were the last Big 12 team still playing.
After Dunn darted through traffic for a layup and then made two free throws, the Bears were up 57-54 with just under 6 minutes left. Their lead didn’t last long.
Scheyer missed a 3-pointer, but Mason Plumlee got the rebound and threw the ball right back to the senior guard — who hit from about 25 feet to tie it.