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Wow, what a game is all I can really say. The battle between top 5 teams went as one would expect – high level basketball. The prevailing sentiment among basketball media was that Gonzaga had the edge – and why not:

  • They were playing close to home
  • Their 3rd game in that arena
  • They’ve been a juggernaut
  • And Duke hadn’t played the same level of competition

Those who ventured to stay up late were treated to a final four level game that was a back and forth affair and an electric atmosphere. It felt like the Blue Devils took the “underdog” talk personally and they came out and matched the Zags shot for shot even pushing to a 9 point lead at the 8:35 mark in the first half. The Zags then responded like the number one team shaving the Duke lead down to 3 at the half on a Julian Strawther 3 pointer with 32 second left in the first.

Duke freshman Paolo Banchero torched the Gonzaga defense from all over the court connecting on 8-13 and 3-6 from beyond the arc. The freshman forward scored 20 of his 21 points in the first half Where be dominated both in the paint and the perimeter. Mark Williams also came up big for the Blue Devils in the first half scoring 11 points and blocking 5 shots. If Paolo was the most electric player in the first half Williams was the most consistent through two halves making his presence felt on both ends of the floor.

In the second half the Zags worked the ball inside to their leading scorer Drew Timme and by the 17 minute mark had their first lead of the second half 53-52. Both teams volleyed for the lead but with 14:11 left and the score Duke freshman forward Paolo Banchero would exit the game with cramps and not return to the game until the 8:25 mark. By that time the Zags had pushed their lead to 4 (70-66). The Blue Devils stayed within a possession of the lead and at the 4:31 mark freshmen center Chet Holmgren fouled Wendell Moore whose 2 free throws put the Blue Devils back on top 75-73.

Wendell Moore took over as captains often do hitting 7 clutch free throws in the last 5 minutes to help the Blue Devils maintain the lead on his way to 20 points for the game.

The Blue Devils were paced by freshman Paolo Banchero who scored 21 points on 8-17 shooting adding 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Wendell Moore Jr added 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Mark Williams had arguably his best game of the season with 17 points on 8-9 shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and 2 steals.

The Bulldogs won the rebounding matchup handily 42-31 but only managed a 1 point advantage in second chance points. The Zags continued shooting the ball well from the field with a 53% clip against the Blue Devil defense but also turned the ball over 17 times. The Blue Devils turned those 17 turnovers into 23 to 2 advantage in points off of turnovers.


Players of the game

While Paolo was the leading scorer the players of the game, for me, would have to be Mark Williams and Wendell Moore jr. Williams played staunch defense, blocking 5 shots, guarding both the interior and perimeter at times. He made life difficult for both Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren and added 17 big points and only missed one shot. Wendell Moore Jr. was impressive throughout the game but when Duke needed leadership in the last 5 minutes he garnered a steal off an inbounds pass, drove to get Chet Holmgren his 4th foul and hit 7 huge free throws to end the game and secure the victory for the Blue Devils. His perimeter defense along with Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach smothered the Zag guards and kept them off balance.


What this win means

This win means that this Blue Devil team can play at a high level, and play with anyone. Duke didn’t play it’s best basketball and still managed to defeat a team that hasn’t lost a regular season game since the season before last. Duke still has a ways to go but they are stepping up when it counts. Duke still has things to work on – rebounding and free throw shooting were not optimal but Duke finds ways to win. Losing the rebounding battle, giving up 53% shooting and still winning shows there’s a margin for error for this team that should take them to a lot of victories.

 DUKE HEAD COACH MIKE KRZYZEWSKI Opening statement: “It was just a really big-time game. What a great crowd. I want to thank T-Mobile and the people who’ve helped put the game on. We planned this well over a year ago. We thought it might be a showcase game, and it was. But having this type of crowd was amazing. Obviously, we feel great about the win. We think we beat an outstanding basketball team. Mark [Few] and I are very close friends and their team advances the ball, pushes it up the court, faster than any team we’ve competed against for a long time – I can’t even remember. So, it put a lot of pressure on us. Then we advanced the ball too. We had a lot of adversity with Paolo [Banchero] getting cramps and he had to get an IV. I thought Mark [Williams] had a sensational game, but the leadership of my captain [Wendell Moore Jr.] was, I think, the key to the game. Wendell Moore was absolutely spectacular and his leadership, especially at the timeout when they took the lead and we had turned the ball over, the things he said and his demeanor and what he said to his team – he really led us to a victory. It was really a player’s game.”


On freshman Paolo Banchero returning in the second half after dealing with leg cramps: “Just having him there helps with his teammates. Not only that, they’re concerned about him. These guys give each other strength. He’s not giving us strength in the locker room. Even if he couldn’t play as much, he gave us a lot of strength.”


On junior Wendell Moore Jr., speaking to the team during a timeout: “Sometimes when a leader says stuff, he doesn’t remember what he said. I remember what he said. He said, ‘Be strong with the ball. Let’s get going. We can’t be giving up layups.’ He was saying the things I should’ve been saying, but when it comes from a player, it’s better. Especially that moment – that was a critical moment. I’ve been in a lot of games. We could’ve gotten knocked out right there, and what that kid did at that timeout was big time. It was really big time.”


On the atmosphere of the game: “These kids are going to be playing in front of a lot of big time crowds during their lives, during their careers. We’re fortunate that in our program, we’re able to schedule some games that can produce a high level of attendance, and same thing with Gonzaga. When we had an opportunity to talk about this game, Mark [Few] and I wanted to play this game. It’s a showcase game. They have an amazing program and so do we, so it’ll attract a lot of attention. It’s probably the game of the year so far. We all realized it. Las Vegas has really become an amazing basketball town. Obviously, with Tark [Jerry Tarkanian] with UNLV, but with all the tournaments being run here – I wish they’d still bring those AAU tournaments back at the end of July. Las Vegas is a huge sports town, so we wanted to play the game here. We played the first collegiate game here (at T-Mobile Arena) a few years ago, so we wanted to come back.”


On sophomore Mark Williams’ development since last season: “The COVID year hurt all those kids because they didn’t have a summer and a fall of individual preparation before their season. Mark came on during the last month of the season. He had 23 [points] and 19 [rebounds] against Louisville, and then we got COVID. He’s just continued to build on that. I really believe that Theo John has helped him, and he helped us today too with those two buckets when Paolo [Banchero] was out. Theo is the best teammate and he’s tough. He started at Marquette, and for them to be able to play and work together, he’s playing against a high-level talent every day. Theo talks to him during the game, and it’s helped him. Because we play fast, Mark, his stride – how he runs, how he runs – has changed. Instead of a walk-up offense, we run. That’s good for him. He’s going to keep getting better. Again, he and Chet [Holmgren] – it’s tough to get a shot off close to the bucket.” 


On junior Wendell Moore Jr.’s growth as a player and leader: 

“If you try to look at only one way of becoming successful, a lot of people are never going to be successful. You have to find your way, and accept coaching, accept guidance. Wendell – he was only 18 [when he arrived at Duke]. Two of our kids, Trevor [Keels] and AJ [Griffin] are 18. They’re not 20, they’re 18. Wendell is 20. He spent seven weeks this April and May changing how he ran, how he walked. He busted his butt with our medical people. He’s an inch taller, he’s a better athlete, his force and how he runs has changed and he took a look at himself and said, ‘These are the things [I need to improve on], how I walk, how I run,’ and it’s worked out. But you have to be open to that, and then you have to work. He’s worked really hard. That kid is really having a hell of a year. He’s my captain. I love what my guys did. I love my team. They’re really good guys.” 



On the matchup against Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren: “Chet’s a great player. Like you said, we’ve played against each other before. I think he played well. He made some tough shots. Obviously, you know he’s a game changer on defense. I had a couple of layups that usually, against anybody else, I would score, or it’d be a dunk, but because Chet’s down there I wasn’t able to finish like that. That’s just an example of how he changes the game. He also brings a skilled game on the offensive end so yeah, great player for sure.”


On what it means to come away with a win over the No. 1 ranked team: “Coming into the game, we just wanted to be ourselves. Like Mark said, we weren’t trying to get outside of ourselves. Obviously, we know they’re the No. 1 team and they’re a high-powered machine, but we felt like if we played our best and did what we do best, we were going to have a real shot and be able to come out with a win. Since the offseason, everyday we’ve tried to come in and be consistent and practice well. One thing [we emphasize] is no bad practices. We try to have as a standard on our team so when you just stack days like that, come in every day and be consistent, in big games like this you’re able to pull out wins and battle it out.”




On the team’s fast start and overall offensive performance: “In the first half we made a lot of shots, but it all starts with this guy right here [Paolo Banchero]. He basically carried us in the first half, scored 20 in the first half. He led us offensively and we just followed his lead. He was going, so we just got him the ball every time we could. He was scoring it and when he’s scoring like that, our offense is at a high. The main thing for us is to just keep moving the ball and keep getting everybody touches, making everybody feel comfortable, and I feel that’s when we play our best.”


On his confidence and level of play this season: “I think for me, that confidence really started in the offseason. Basically, once our season ended last year, it wasn’t really down time for me. I was right back on campus with Coach Will [Stephens], our strength coach, just doing as much work as we can to prepare for this season. That’s really where the confidence comes from. On top of that, my teammates believe in me. Every time they pass me the ball they know, hopefully I can do something good with it, and that gives me so much confidence on the court playing with these guys and knowing that they believe in me. [There’s] really nothing I feel like I can’t do with these guys on my side.”




On his individual performance: “I feel like I’ve worked hard, but at the same time I’ve got to give credit to my teammates. Especially today, they found me a lot in the right places. Whether it was fast breaks, lobs, or just post entries. Whatever it was, just being able to get the ball and convert was probably the biggest thing tonight.”


On his defensive mindset and altering shots at the rim: “Tonight especially, we knew Chet [Holmgren] and Drew [Timme], obviously really talented players. Knowing that we were going to have to bring it every possession on the defensive end because they go through them, so just really being able to protect the rim, making all the right decisions defensively, talking, rotations – whatever it is.” 

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