Friday night’s clash between No.1 Gonzaga and No.5 Duke unfolded impressively as the Blue Devils outscored the Bulldogs 84-81 in a battle of two national title contenders with scorched rosters by the best freshmen in sports at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In the end, it was a veteran’s play that helped the Blue Devils secure their second victory over a Top 10 opponent this season.
Junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and made seven of his last eight free throw attempts to help Duke outlast a Gonzaga side that had looked nearly invincible in a 20 victory. points on the UCLA No.2 on Tuesday night, suffered his first loss of the season and his first regular-season loss since a 91-78 loss on February 22, 2020 at BYU.
A crowd of 20,389 – the largest to ever see a basketball game in Nevada – added a palpable sense of tension to the reunion, which saw No.1 Chet Holmgren de Gonzaga taking on No.2 Paolo Banchero from Duke. Banchero was the story of the first half, as he scored 20 of his 21 points before half-time. But he left the game with 14:11 left in the second half while facing apparent cramps and did not return until 8:25.
Mark Williams and Moore helped carry the load in his absence. Williams scored 17 for Duke (7-0) and had nine rebounds, a record for the team, while facing Holmgren and Gonzaga star Drew Timme at the post. Julian Strawther continued a strong start to the season for the Zags (6-1) finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Timme added 17 and Holmgren scored 16. But it was the Blue Devils who scored a landmark victory as 42nd-year coach Mike Krzyzewski notched his seventh victory over a No.1-ranked foe.
Duke should be # 1
With Duke’s victory over Gonzaga, three of the top five teams in this week’s AP Top 25 poll have suffered losses in recent days. This means the Blue Devils are expected to reach number 1 on Monday when a new poll is released. The only other team with a case for the top spot would be a Purdue team with wins over North Carolina and No.7 Villanova. But Duke’s resume is more impressive. The Blue Devils knocked out the Kentucky No.10 and now have the best college basketball win of the season knocking out the Zags.
Gonzaga didn’t just take advantage of last season’s success. The Bulldogs won their standings with victories over No.8 Texas and crushing the No.2 Bruins on Tuesday. This Duke team, which didn’t even make it to last year’s NCAA tournament, looks like the ACC favorite and potential Final Four team. If they reach number 1, it will be the 20th team in Krzyzewski’s 42-year tenure to reach that peak.
Banchero’s cramp fight got him off the ground during a crucial stretch of the second half and seemed to limit him as he came in for the home stretch of the game. But he showed why he’s the potential No.1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft in the first half. The 6-foot-9 forward managed 8 of 13 shots from the field in the first half, including three on 3 points.
A streak midway through the first half was particularly emblematic of Banchero’s full play. After removing a rebound from a miss from Timme, Banchero led a quick break from Duke and lobed Mark Williams for a dunk. On Duke’s next possession, Banchero took a pass from Trevor Keels in transition and drilled a 3-point left wing that gave Duke his biggest lead of the game at 27-18. Banchero can do it all, and Friday’s game was just the last callback as he has now hit double digits in each of his first seven college games.
Holmgren is not left out
An NBA general manager torn by the question of who they might select at No.1 in the overall standings in the 2022 NBA Draft might have left Friday night’s game more impressed with Banchero. But it’s not like Holmgren is disappointed. The 7-footer finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, although he missed all three of his 3-point attempts. Williams was also able to leverage Holmgren’s slim frame at times, but it’s no secret that Holmgren needs to add bulk to his frame in the years to come.
If there were any questions as to whether Holmgren’s conditioning or athleticism would hold up in a game involving elite athletes being played at a breakneck pace, he responded to them by appearing calm and at ease. in his role. Holmgren and Banchero are distinctly different players, with Banchero offering more positional versatility. Holmgren, on the other hand, is a true modern center. In just seven games, he’s already blocked more shots (24) than anyone on Gonzaga’s roster in 32 games last season. Banchero might have gotten the better of him on Friday, but don’t be surprised if Holmgren is still the first in the eyes of some NBA teams who need a modern center in next year’s draft.