A few minutes later, when Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones started to help Duke get back into the game and ultimately take the lead, I tweeted this:
Ultimately, the game ended up being a LOT like the Duke-Virginia game. Duke seized the game from Wisconsin the same way they seized the game from Virginia back in January.
Today, I wanted to go back and look at just how similar the two games were.
Well, it turns out that my hunch last night was pretty spot on. The two games were nearly identical. In both games, Duke started strong and built a decent lead in the first half. Against Virginia, Duke led 22-17 with 5:15 left in the half. Against the Badgers, Duke led 23-17 with 5:56 remaining. Then, both Virginia and Wisconsin closed the half strong and tightened the games.
Both UVA and Wisconsin carried the momentum they had built at the end of the first half into the second half, as each team built leads over the Blue Devils. The main difference is that Virginia led for longer (the Hoos led for 14:42 in the 2nd half) and by a larger margin (as large as 11 with 9:40 to play) than the Badgers did. Still, it's pretty remarkable how similar the two stretches were.
The biggest similarity between the two games, however, was how Duke finished. Each game featured a moment where it seemed like a light switch flipped on for the Blue Devils. In the Virginia game, that moment came with 5:08 left in the game, as Tyus Jones converted a 3 point play to cut the deficit from 9 to 6 points. This was immediately following Justise Winslow's infamous technical foul, which ultimately ended up being a 4 point play for the Hoos. Prior to Winslow's technical, Duke had cut the Virginia lead to 2, and seemed to be right back in the game. But UVA took Duke's punch, and punched right back (not literally, although almost literally, as Justin Anderson somehow resisted the urge to retaliate against Winslow for his bogus/potentially dangerous play). But then, as I said before, it was as if the lights switched on for Duke. Following the 4 point trip resulting from Winsolw's technical, Duke went on a 22-7 run, including scoring the game's last 11 points.
The "light-switch" moment in the Wisconsin game came a bit earlier than in the Virginia game. When Frank Kaminsky finished at the rim with 13:23 left, he gave the Badgers a 9 point lead, their biggest of the game. In response, Coach K called Duke's 3rd timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Duke freshman Grayson Allen nailed a three pointer and followed it up by diving on the floor for a near steal on the other end. On the next possession, Allen finished off an and-1 play and the Devils were right back in the game. But like Virginia, Wisconsin seemed to have an answer, as Nigel Hayes hit a clutch three to push the Badgers' lead back to 5.
However, from there on out, as well all now, it was all Duke. Once the Blue Devils regained the lead, it seemed pretty clear to all watching that they were not going to give it back.
Anyways, I am not really sure what my message is in this post other than that I thought it was interesting to see how similar the two games were. In the end, Duke won both games (in my opinion, their two biggest/gutsiest wins of the year), for two main reasons. First, they hit shots. No Virginia fan will ever forget what Duke's guards did at the end of the meeting in January. It was so unbelievable, that many if not most members of the media did not really treat Virginia's loss to Duke as a loss. It was pretty common to hear something like, "Yeah they lost to Duke, but it was kind of a fluke. Did you see the ending?!?" Well, maybe it wasn't a fluke after all.
The second reason they won these two big games? They made stops. A lot of people (including myself) liked to rag on this Duke team because they had some embarrassing losses. Well those happened because of their complete lack of identity on defense. If they ran into a team that could score, they were in big trouble. This is the main reason why I honestly doubted they could make a deep run in March. The team I saw all year had far too many holes on defense to win 6 games in 3 weeks against top notch competition. But this wasn't the team I saw all year. Duke's defense didn't just go from bad to serviceable in the tournament. It was legitimately good during the Final Four, and it's the main reason why they cut down the nets last night. Bottom line, Duke made stops, Wisconsin didn't.
For some reason, I haven't seen many Duke fans on my timeline the past few days complaining about how defense is ruining college basketball. I wonder why...