Duke University used to breeze through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament without any trouble. The Sweet 16 was a right of passage for the Blue Devils, and hardly anything special. When a program like Duke University gets to so many Final Fours and wins so many championship, winning just two games in the NCAA Tournament is not a special occasion.
But this time, it was for Duke, as the Blue Devils snapped a whopping three-year streak of not advancing past the NCAA Tournament first weekend, and even that required some breaks. Despite leading the Texas Longhorns through most of their second round NCAA Tournament game, Duke needed some foul shots and luck to finally hold off the Longhorns, 74-69.
Duke had lost in the first round to VCU two years ago, and were upset as a two seed by West Virginia last year. Memories of those early NCAA Tournament began to dance in Duke’s head again, after the Longhorns rallied from 10 down with under eight minutes to go to tie the game.
With the game tied at 69, Duke got two free throws from Nolan Smith to take the lead back. That is when the Duke mystique started to strike in the Blue Devils favor. Rebounds started to go Duke’s way, as Texas just couldn’t hold on to the ball or get the right bounce from the rim.
Most notably, the Longhorns’ had a three-point attempt for the lead go halfway down before it rimmed out. A defensive rebound was overturned by a foul, a putback attempt also rimmed out, a loose ball was saved by a long pass from Duke’s Jon Scheyer, and two missed Duke free throws resulted in a Blue Devils rebound to seal the game.
Seventh seeded Texas failed to get the breaks to pull the upset, falling short after being down most of the way. The Longhorns will not get to repeat their run to the Elite 8 from last year.
The next obstacle is the Sweet 16 for the Blue Devils. Duke has been upset in the Sweet 16 in four of the last seven years, however. Since winning the national championship in 2001, Duke has only gotten past the Sweet 16 one, in their Final Four trip in 2004.
Their opponent will be Villanova, which had a much easier time dispatching of UCLA yesterday in a 20 point blowout win. The third seeded Wildcats will meet Duke in Boston on Thursday.
The other side of the East Regional semifinal bracket will be determined today, as top seeded Pittsburgh takes on Oklahoma State, and Xavier faces Wisconsin.
New York Times- “Duke Advances, but Not With Ease” www.nytimes.com/2009/03/22/sports/ncaabasketball/22duke.html
Wikipedia- “Duke Blue Devils men’s basketball” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Blue_Devils_men’s_basketball