Duke ends with longer-than-expected NCAA run, short bench
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) Duke had a short bench and, all things considered, a long stay in the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils (25-11) wrapped up a shorthanded season with a loss to Oregon in the West Regional semifinals.
While last year's national champions won't make it two in a row, they enter the offseason as one of the favorites to contend for title No. 6 a year from now.
''Our team could not even have been in the tournament,'' coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game in Anaheim, California. ''Instead this group of kids fought like crazy.''
These Blue Devils found their strength in their lack of numbers.
The dominating subplot was a lack of bodies, and that became even more apparent after high-energy forward Amile Jefferson broke his foot in December and was lost for the season.
That led Duke - which wasn't exactly flooded with depth in the first place - to essentially go with a six-man rotation.
The burden to score fell primarily on Grayson Allen and freshman Brandon Ingram.
Allen averaged 21.6 points, had 19 games with 20 points and led the team in scoring 21 times. Ingram finished with a stat line that ranks with two one-and-done freshmen at Duke: Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor. Ingram averaged 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds while hitting the 20-point mark 14 times.
There just weren't enough healthy players surrounding them.
The rotation consisted almost entirely of freshman Luke Kennard off the bench. Chase Jeter and Sean Obi occasionally picked up a few spare minutes, but for the most part, that was it.
And yet, the Blue Devils in February won the first three games of four in a row against Top 25 opponents, in the process turning around a season that easily could have gone south.
That run came at a cost, Krzyzewski said.
''It knocked us back, too. It knocks a lot out of you, but it defined the season and put us in a position where we're (an NCAA) No. 4 seed and pretty good,'' Krzyzewski said. ''I wish we could be more fresh and all that, but you go into all those battles, you can't be. That's why I'm proud of my guys. I mean, they still battled at the end.''
Duke figures to be a much deeper team next season - even with Ingram seemingly headed to the NBA draft.
Krzyzewski said last week that this would be Ingram's ''only time'' to play in the NCAA Tournament. Ingram has said he's ''not really worried about that right now.''
Once again, the Blue Devils figure to have a parade of star freshmen lined up to take his place.
It's led by Harry Giles, a forward from Winston-Salem who missed his final prep season with a knee injury but should be healthy for the start of preseason practice.
The Blue Devils also will boast new forwards Javin DeLaurier and Jayson Tatum and guard Frank Jackson, and will have Justin Robinson - the son of Hall of Fame player David Robinson - coming off a redshirt year. And they're seeking a medical hardship waiver for Jefferson to allow him to return in the fall as a redshirt senior.
For now, though, Krzyzewski is keeping the focus on what this team accomplished.
''I'm proud of my team. My team had just a great, great year,'' he said. ''With the injuries and youth and limited guys, for them in our league to win 25 games, and Sweet 16, just a terrific group. A terrific year, and proud of them.''
Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary