Duke entered the NCAA tournament as a questionable No. 1 seed. On Sunday, however, when the Final Four field was finalized, the Blue Devils were still standing.
Duke pulled away from second-seeded Gonzaga down the stretch for a 66-52 win in the South Regional final, notching the program’s 16th Final Four berth, the 12th under coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Zags, meanwhile, fell short in their bid for their first Final Four.
The Blue Devils looked fairly unbeatable at the start of the game. They hit their first three shots from beyond the arc, had six assists on their first eight baskets and got a three-point play from freshman star center Jahlil Okafor to take a 23-12 lead at the 11:45 mark.
Gonzaga then rallied, and when its own impressive freshman big man, Domantas Sabonis, dropped in a layup to cap a 14-4 run, Duke's lead was down to 27-26. The Blue Devils took a 31-26 advantage into halftime despite shooting just 35.5% in the period.
Of course, the Zags weren’t ready to fold. Facing a second-half deficit for the first time in the tournament, they scored the first five points after halftime to tie the game 31-31. Byron Wesley's three-point play capped a 7-0 run and gave Gonzaga a 38-34 lead with 16:15 to play, which marked Duke’s largest deficit of the tournament.
The Blue Devils answered with a 9-0 spurt of their own. They retook the lead at 41-38 on a three-pointer from sophomore Matt Jones and another Jones three at the 9:48 mark put Duke in front by six. Gonzaga responded again and had a chance to tie the score at 53 but Kyle Wiltjer missed a point-blank uncontested layup. The Blue Devils then closed the game on a 13-1 run in which eight of their points came at the free throw line. The rest came on a three-pointer from Justise Winslow that stretched the lead to 60-51 with 2:42 remaining and on a layup from Matt Jones with less than a minute to go that capped the scoring.
Winslow and Matt Jones had 16 points for Duke, which shot 42.1% from three-point range and only turned it over three times. Wiltjer had 16 for the Bulldogs but a team that shot nearly 41% from three-point range coming into the game went only 2 for 10 from beyond the arc, had 13 turnovers and didn't make a field goal in the final six and a half minutes.
Duke will move on to face East Regional champion Michigan State in the Final Four Indianapolis next Saturday.