Coach Mike Krzyzewski has done it again: After 35 years at Duke, he knows a thing about recruiting good student-athletes. To finish first, you must first finish. Year after year he has done the best job of, like a magnet, drawing that talent to tobacco road. Apparently it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.
The Blue Devils are National Champions of College Basketball after rallying from 48-39 in the second half to deny the Badgers of Wisconsin their first National Championship. Wisconsin last played in the title game in 1940 — that’s 75 years ago.
The game was tied at 31-31 at half and turned into a great championship game. Former Apple Valley High School star Tyus Jones was the star of stars. It looked like Duke was in deep trouble — down nine with star center Jahil Okafor saddled with foul trouble while battling Wisconsin’s senior center college player of the year Frank Kaminsky, 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Krzyzewski told his players to turn up the heat on defense and stay aggressive on offense. And that they did: Freshman guard Grayson Allen gave the Blue Devils the spark off the bench they needed to offset the patient, methodical offensive style of Wisconsin. He attacked on offense and defense, scoring 16 points huge points off the bench to help rally the Blue Devils. Krzyzewski’s young squad wore down the Badgers. The will to win is important but the will to prevail is vital.
Four Duke freshmen combined to score 60 of Dukes 68 points led by the sensational Jones’ game-high 23 points with 19 coming down the stretch in the second half. He hit big shot after big shot in leading Duke to their fifth National Championship. The Duke guards combined to out-score the Badgers guards 45-12.
Duke shot 47 percent; the Badgers shot 41 percent. The game was well played by both teams: Duke and Wisconsin each had only five turnovers. Wisconsin outrebounded Duke 35-33 and had 13 assists to Dukes’ seven. Somebody said a long time ago defense wins championships; indeed, Duke blocked six shots in the game.
Krzyzewski tied UCLA’s John Wooden with his 12th team he has guided to the Final Four. He won this title partly by out-recruiting Kentucky’s John Calipari and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo for Jones. Now when you when you drive through Apple Valley, you will see the sign that says, “Home of Tyus Jones. The 2015 Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Championship.”
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.