Zoubek's ascension from bench propelled Duke's run to the title
INDIANAPOLIS -- As they watched
He'd certainly earned it.
Nearly everyone who watched Duke's thrilling 61-59 win over Butler in Monday night's title game will forever remember
With the Blue Devils clinging to a one-point lead, Butler inbounded the ball from beneath its basket with 13.6 seconds left and got it to Hayward for what seemed at first an open jumper from the right baseline. But Duke's 7-foot-1 center came out to meet him, forcing the Bulldogs star to put extra arc on his shot. When it missed, the bearded giant was there again to grab the rebound, and he was fouled with 3.6 seconds left.
The game wasn't officially over until Zoubek made his first foul shot, intentionally missed the second, and, of course, until Hayward's last heave bounced off the front rim. But that wasn't the moment his coach was so quick to bring up when addressing reporters afterward.
"Zoubs, on his out-of-bounds defense, adjusts, alters the shot, then got the rebound," marveled
His name didn't appear on the NCAA's All-Tournament Team here, despite grabbing 10 rebounds in both of the Blue Devils' Final Four wins and averaging 11.2 boards in the their last five tourney wins; but he wasn't lacking for admirers inside his team's locker room.
"Brian was amazing all season," raved Smith. "He's been our X-factor, rebounding, making defensive plays. He's a [7-1 guy] making game-winning plays for us on the perimeter."
"He doesn't get an extra point in the stat sheet for altering [Hayward's shot], but it's a game-winning play," said fellow senior forward
Thomas, Zoubek and Scheyer were freshmen on Duke's 2006-07 team that uncharacteristically lost in the first round to Virginia Commonwealth. Throughout the tournament, they'd mentioned that moment as a motivating factor.
For Zoubek, there were so many more.
There was four years of assistant coach
But when his opportunity finally came Feb. 13 against Maryland, Zoubek's career-high 17 rebounds began a late-season surge that culminated up on that stage, trophy in hand.
"I'm so happy to be able to be a part of a national championship as a team," said the New Jersey native. "But to be able for me personally to be able to prove to people I can play, to be able to say I started for a national champion -- that's a great feeling."
The first half Monday night felt somewhat like those earlier, frustrating days. Butler, despite lacking Duke's size, had crushed the Blue Devils on the glass, most notably holding a 12-3 advantage in offensive rebounds. Duke led 33-32, thanks in large part to shooting 50 percent from the field.
In the second half, however, Zoubek and his teammates asserted themselves in the paint. They outrebounded the Bulldogs 20-11 in the second half, including 8-2 on the offensive end. Zoubek, despite picking up his fourth foul with 11:21 remaining, hauled in four.
"In the second half, we just played better defense and rebounded better," said Krzyzewski. "We brought our defense back a little bit more to bring our guys closer to the bucket ... and also made our rebounders closer."
Krzyzewski's most controversial -- and, it turns out, disputed -- tactical decision was for Zoubek to intentionally miss his second free-throw with 3.6 seconds left, forgoing a potential three-point lead. The intention, Zoubek said, was to create a long rebound that would chew up clock, which it did. By the time he gained control, Hayward had less than two seconds to turn and cut back down court.
There was confusion on the sideline prior to the free throw, and Zoubek said he heard voices telling him both to make it and miss it. He went with his original instructions. Had Hayward hit that shot, however ...
"I'm just glad we're not sitting here talking about how I lost the game," he joked.
Instead, he'll get to spend the rest of his life talking about the night he helped win a national championship -- and the long, turbulent four years that preceded it.
"It's been an absolute progression," said Zoubek. "I don't think our seniors could have predicted anywhere near this kind of success through our career, just based on how our freshman year went. It just proves that if you keep with it, keep your head down, keep working at it, good things will come."
Like that last, fateful rebound that came caroming into his hands.