Clearly UConn aren’t the same team they were when they won the national championship last season. Duke still struggled against a difficult opponent, led by Tyus Jones while Jahlil Okafor struggled to still finish with an almost double double and walk away with another win, 66-56 to remain undefeated.
With Arizona looking very good out West, there’s a chance that this type of win might cost Duke their second overall spot, not that it matters at this point. Connecticut hung around all game long thanks to a big night from Ryan Boatright, the main piece remaining from last season’s incredible NCAA Tournament run that ended winning the title. Boatright scored 22 points and was helped by Kentan Facey with 14, but the Huskies got killed on the offensive glass, wasting away a very good defensive effort.
Duke got 21 points from Jones leading an entire lineup in double figures. Duke didn’t get a single point from their bench players while UConn got just two from theirs, combining to produce the lowest scoring bench production in a division I game this season. UConn held Duke to just 37.5% from the field, but gave up 14 offensive rebounds, four of them by Amile Jefferson and three more for Jahlil Okafor, struggling with the size of Amida Brimah and the help UConn kept sending into the paint.
While Okafor is the premier focus of draft scouts, like other super-freshman from last season, not every game is an easy domination for him. He finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds in this win, often sent to the line and not given many opportunities to pull up for shots (just five field goal attempts). Duke are incredibly better when Okafor gets a lot of touches. UConn did the best they could to prevent that and slow things down for the Blue Devils.
However, even without the benches of both teams getting in on the action, there’s just a lot more talent on the Duke side of the ball, with Justice Winslow scoring 12 points including a big three pointer that gave Duke a nine point lead near the end to finally fend off their rivals, and 10 from Quinn Cook. Rasheed Sulaimon disappointed off the bench with 0 points in 17 minutes, but his teammates hung in there without him.
The NCAA Tournament isn’t always won by the best team in the nation – it’s the hottest team at that point. After struggling to do well in recent tournaments but also in the regular season last year, Duke, as always, see both ACC and national success as something to achieve. UConn, after a 4-4 start, know there’s a long way to go before they can honestly say they’re not going to live up to last season’s success. Duke have a much lower bar to jump over, luckily for them.