Duke defeats Arkansas as Coach K advances to one final Final Four
Mike Krzyzewski’s latest tour added one last stop on the bayou.
No. 9 Duke defeated No. 17 Arkansas, 78-69, in the Western Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night at Chase Center, sending the Blue Devils and their outgoing coach to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Coaching in his 17th Elite Eight game with Duke, Krzyzewski, 75, led the Blue Devils (32-6) to the Final Four for the 13th time. That’s more Final Four appearances than any other men’s college basketball coach, as he broke a tie with UCLA’s John Wooden (12).
Now Duke, who was ranked No. 2 in the West, heads to the Superdome national semifinals in search of its sixth NCAA championship under Krzyzewski’s tenure. Only Wooden, with 10, has more.
“The joy, you can’t explain it,” Krzyzewski said on the pitch after the game, amid his players celebrating during the net-cutting ceremony. “I am a grandfather. I lived through my daughters. I live through my grandchildren. Now I live through these guys. Holy mackerel.
The Blue Devils will face 15th seeded Saint Peter’s, the Cinderella story of the tournament, or their fierce rival, North Carolina, in the Final Four. The Tar Heels and Peacocks play Sunday in the Eastern Regional Final.
Krzyzewski’s last Duke team before associate head coach Jon Scheyer takes over next season in a bid to collect as many new banners as possible for the crowded rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke won the ACC regular season title to win one, but lost to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament Championship Game to miss another.
But on Saturday night, the Blue Devils earned a second with a place in the Final Four. Now they will strive to win two games in New Orleans and win a third.
“As soon as we won the game it started to sink,” said Duke junior Wendell Moore, who scored 14 points against Arkansas. “For us, this is our second banner that we’ve hung, and the thing is, we’re not happy with it. For us, the work is not finished. We want to hang one more banner.
Against fourth-seeded Arkansas (28-9), Duke built a 45-33 halftime lead and used a 10-0 run midway through the second half that pushed his lead to 18 points with 6:19 to go.
Freshman forward AJ Griffin beat Duke with 18 points, including 12 in the second half when Duke pulled away and took the win. Fellow freshman Paolo Banchero added 16 points as the Blue Devils shot 54.7%.
Second-year center Mark Williams added 12 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Blue Devils.
“His defensive rebound is one of the most important things about this game,” Krzyzewski said. “He had nine defensive rebounds, and that’s one time of possession and if you score, one save and one score, and we needed that. His defensive rebound with the blocks, huge.
Duke limited Arkansas to 41.9 percent shooting, using man-to-man defense early but moving into the zone in the second half to stop a Razorbacks rally.
The Blue Devils led 51-39 but saw Arkansas unleash a 9-2 run by reaching the basket far too easily for Krzyzewski’s liking. After Jaylin Williams scored, drew a foul from Banchero and hit a free throw with 13:19 remaining, Duke’s lead had narrowed to 53-48 – its smallest since the first half.
Krzyzewski called time out and the Blue Devils dropped their traditional man-to-man for one zone. Duke did the same late in their 78-73 win over Texas Tech in Thursday night’s Sweet 16 game, and the move again proved successful.
Arkansas failed to score on four straight possessions, with Mark Williams blocking shots in the lane on two of them.
Banchero scored inside and, after Griffin drove for the basket, Banchero had two free throws.
Griffin added a layup and when Moore hit a jumper into the lane with 10:20 left, Duke had gone 10-0 to lead 63-48.
“We were beaten by a better team today,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought Duke was phenomenal. Would be surprised if they don’t play to win a national championship.
The Blue Devils never trailed by more than three points in the first half and that deficit was solely due to them turning the ball over on four of their first eight possessions.
But after Arkansas led 9-6, Williams scored eight straight Duke points and the Blue Devils never trailed again.
When Trevor Keels scored after a rim drive with 10:14 to play, Duke was leading 22-14.
Jaylin Williams did his best to keep Arkansas close, scoring seven inside runs, including an inside field goal at 7:58 that cut Duke’s lead to 24-21.
But Williams committed his second foul with 5:29 to go in the half and did not play for the final 4:56 until halftime.
Duc took advantage of it.
After Trey Wade’s 3-pointer cut Duke’s lead to 35-31 at 3:14, the Razorbacks didn’t shoot the rest of the half.
Keels scored a basket on a pass from Moore in transition giving Duke a 37-31 lead and Chris Lykes responded with two free throws.
Banchero’s first 3-pointer of the game made Duke’s lead 40-33.
Duke regained possession with 56 seconds left and called time out to set up a 2-on-1 scenario to end the half. Moore missed a jumper but Mark Williams rebounded and scored with 35 seconds left.
Arkansas had a chance to use most of the rest of the half, but Lykes missed an open 3-pointer with 10 seconds left. This allowed Duke to push the ball downfield where Keels drilled a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, giving Duke their biggest lead at 45-33.
The Blue Devils shot 54.8% from the field, dominating the inside game on offense. Duke had 30 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes.
Arkansas shot just 40.6 percent in the first half.
This story was originally published March 26, 2022 11 p.m.