INDIANAPOLIS – This has been a year of milestones for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. In January at Madison Square Garden, he became the first Division I coach to record 1,000 victories with a win over St. John's. Last weekend, he reached his 12th Final Four, tying a record set by UCLA coach John Wooden.
Now, Coach K has another shot at history. His Blue Devils scored an 81-61 victory over Michigan State in the first national semifinal Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium to put Krzyzewski into Monday night's title game.
It's his ninth appearance in the title game, and a victory would give Krzyzewski his fifth national title, breaking a tie with former Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp for second all-time behind Wooden's 10 championships. As a sign of Krzyzewski's adaptability, he reached the title game by relying on the performances of four freshmen plus senior guard Quinn Cook.
Krzyzewski's team got off to a slow start, trailing 14-6 at the outset, but the Blue Devils came on strong the rest of the way with a tremendous defense that held Michigan State to 40-percent shooting and generated an offense that dominated points in the paint, 42-26.
"Our defense was terrific, and we drove the ball to the basket with such strength," Krzyzewski said. "Our offense gave our defense a push with how hard we were taking it to the basket. Our last 36 minutes were our best basketball we've played, and we've played well in the tournament."
Justise Winslow had 19 points and nine rebounds, and the Blue Devils (34-4) got 18 points and six rebounds from Jahlil Okafor. Freshman guard Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen had nine points apiece. Cook added 17 points.
Denzel Valentine led the Spartans with 22 points and 11 rebounds, Travis Trice had 16 points and five assists, and Branden Dawson had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Spartans opened as if they were primed for an upset, making five of their first seven shots, including four three-pointers, to jump out to a 14-6 lead. But Okafor, who totaled 15 points in two South Regional games, had seven points in a 14-2 run that put Duke in control with a 20-16 lead.
"They did a good job of taking me away," said Valentine, who had three three-pointers in the opening surge. "They were denying. We took some bad shots and had some bad turnovers, and the next thing you know, they had the lead."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said the Spartans did what they wanted on defense, guarding the three-point line and letting Okafor have his on the inside. He was incensed about the officiating, which put Duke at the line to hit 27 of 37 compared with a 10-for-16 effort by the Spartans.
"What beat us was the free-throw line and turnovers," Izzo said. "It's drive and get fouled. You're not allowed to touch anybody. I've been here when we had smashmouth football, I mean, basketball."
That didn't explain why the Spartans missed 17 of their final 20 shots of the first half, which ended with Duke leading 36-25. But instead of responding with a second-half run, the Spartans got hit in the mouth with an 18-9 Duke burst for a 54-34 lead. The Blue Devils had seven layups or dunks in that span. Izzo admitted it felt like some of his players "panicked" a bit.
"We knew we had to start fast in the second half because of what happened against Gonzaga," Winslow said, recalling the South Regional final. "Coach hit on that hard in the locker room at halftime."and that