Duke shuts down Wisconsin in the final minutes to claim its fifth national title
INDIANAPOLIS – This Duke team was forged not over years but months, weeks, days. Its genesis was a Friday afternoon in November 2013, when the star high schoolers Tyus Jones, from Apple Valley, and Jahlil Okafor of Chicago coordinated their commitments to coach Mike Krzyzewski and a Blue Devils program that was changing before his eyes.
Did it matter that Okafor and Jones — college basketball's most celebrated recruiting package perhaps since Greg Oden and Mike Conley headed to Ohio State — seemed likely to stay for just a year? Only in that it required Krzyzewski to use the cliff-note versions of his pearls of wisdom and teach teenagers how to win.
Twenty-four years after earning his first national title in Indianapolis with a fearless and unlikely group, Krzyzewski returned to the city as a practitioner of changed methods for a changed game. They proved equally successful. With substantial contributions from the four freshmen who had led them here, the Blue Devils outlasted Wisconsin 68-63 to win another NCAA tournament final Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With his fifth championship, Krzyzewski moved alone into second place behind John Wooden. He did so with a team improbably led by freshmen, four of whom — Jones, Okafor, Justise Winslow and reserve Grayson Allen — were the only Duke players to finish with at least 10 points, combining for 60.
It was Jones, who had a game-high 23, who supplied the knockout punch, a three-pointer from the top of the key with 1 minute 23 seconds remaining. The Badgers did not have enough time or energy to force overtime.
"It's tough to say anything right now," the Wisconsin star big man Frank Kaminsky said. "These guys are my family."
Wisconsin passed through a gantlet to get to this point, with victories over North Carolina, Arizona and, most notably, undefeated Kentucky on Saturday night.
The Blue Devils won at Wisconsin on Dec. 3, thrusting them into the conversation of title contenders. The victory might have cloaked them with a false air of invincibility, too. Unbeaten before Jan. 11, the Blue Devils lost two games in a row, to North Carolina State and Miami, and suddenly their confidence slipped away.
Quinn Cook, the team's only senior, called a team meeting at his off-campus home, for players only. They watched television and relaxed. Cook assured them they would be fine.
"I think that was a big thing for our season," he said Friday. "Guys responded and kind of got the edge back that we needed."
On Monday, the first half was as tight as could be, with the teams appearing equally capable of claiming the title.
Wisconsin, showing some nerves, opened the game uneasily. Sam Dekker's first shot was an airball, and Nigel Hayes dropped his first pass. The Badgers missed 12 of their first 18 shots and three of their first five free throws, falling behind, 21-17. After driving for a layup attempt midway through the first quarter, Winslow looked at Cook and mouthed, "They're soft."
Duke pushed the pace and attacked the rim, although Wisconsin, one of the most disciplined teams in the country, took care not to foul.
Then, using a steal by Kaminsky and a quick 9-0 run, Wisconsin snatched the lead. The Badgers worked the glass, and their ball movement loosened up. Okafor picked up his second foul, and Krzyzewski left him on the bench. By halftime, the score was 31-31, and there had been 13 lead changes.
In the second half, Bronson Koenig scored nine of the Badgers' first 15 points, opening up the floor as an outside shooter. Wisconsin built its lead to 48-39 with 13:26 remaining while Duke suffered a scoring drought of more than three minutes. A three-pointer by Allen finally stopped the drought, and Duke kept attacking, drawing eight fouls in the first nine minutes and sending Koenig to the bench with three.
A drive by Kaminsky drew a foul on Okafor, his fourth, and he grabbed his hair in frustration. With Okafor struggling, Jones took over, and his jump shot with seven minutes remaining tied the game at 54-54.
"Teams make runs," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said of losing the 9-point lead. "Happens all the time."
With 4:09 remaining, Jones hit another big shot, a three-pointer to give Duke a 1-point lead. The Blue Devils' defense intensified, forcing a Wisconsin shot-clock violation with 2:50 remaining. An Okafor putback put Duke ahead by 5.
The Badgers wound up missing seven of their last nine shots as Duke's defense came through down the stretch. And confetti rained on the Blue Devils yet again.