South Region: Young Duke in another Elite Eight
Houston — Justise Winslow says coach Mike Krzyzewski never treated him and the other Duke freshmen like, well, freshmen.
These young Blue Devils certainly aren't playing like it either — and have Coach K one win away from another NCAA Final Four.
"He gave us his trust and just believed in us," said Winslow, one of the three freshman starters. "When you have that, you play like yourself."
Winslow, playing home in Houston the day after his 19th birthday, had 21 points and 10 rebounds for South Regional top seed Duke in a 63-57 Sweet 16 victory over revived Utah on Friday night.
Freshman guard Tyus Jones had 15 points while standout big man Jahlil Okafor had six points and eight rebounds.
Duke (32-4) will play in its 20th regional final, the 14th under Coach K for the most by any active coach. The last Final Four appearance was in 2010, when the Blue Devils also went through Houston on way to their fourth national title.
"This has been one of my favorite groups. They've been easy to coach and they really get along. There's only a good attitude, only a good attitude and a willingness to learn." Krzyzewski said. "Sometimes freshmen don't learn that until they're older. But these guys knew it from the beginning. That's why they've had a special year."
The Blue Devils play No. 2 seed Gonzaga (35-2) on Sunday in the South Regional final, with the winner going to Indianapolis for the Final Four. The Bulldogs beat 11th-seeded UCLA 74-62 in the earlier game Friday night at NRG Stadium, the home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
Brandon Taylor had 15 points for the Utes (26-9), the No. 5 seed with an at-large berth out of the Pac-12.
Utah and its Coach K, Larry Krystkowiak, got to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, and only three years after winning six games in Krystkowiak's first season.
Leading scorer Delon Wright was the Utes' only senior starter, and Dallin Bachynski the only other graduating player who played regularly.
Asked where he goes from now, Krystkowiak said it was time to decompress a bit.
"Just enjoyed the experience with these kids, and am going to soak this up and reflect," he said.
Wright, who got his third foul on a questionable call with about 5 minutes left in the first half, finished with 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting. Dallin Bachynski added 11 points for the Utes, and 7-foot freshman Jakob Poeltl had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Even after Utah didn't score until nearly 5 minutes into the game, Duke was down 8-5 before going ahead to stay with an 8-0 run in just over 2-1/2 minutes when all the Blue Devils freshman starters scored.
Winslow's 3-pointer at 12:36 tied the game 8-8 before Amile Jefferson's tiebreaking layup. Okafor had a jumper before Jones' layup made it 14-8 with 9:54 left.
Another 8-0 run after halftime pushed the Blue Devils to a 49-34 lead with 8:41 left.
That spurt included four free throws by Quinn Cook, the senior guard who also made it to a Sweet 16 in 2013 — but was also part of the Blue Devils squads upset in their NCAA openers last year (Mercer) and in 2012 (Lehigh).
Wright got his third foul with 4:57 left in the first half in a scramble for the ball — under the Duke basket and in front of the Utah bench. Wright and Winslow were both on the floor, the Duke freshman on his back, when the foul was called.
Duke was up 27-17 on a layup by Okafor with 3:04 left, but didn't score again until after halftime.
Wright got back in the game after halftime, making a jumper on the first shot for a 27-24 score. The Utes never got closer.
After Utah had scored nine points in a row to get within 49-43 with 3:42 left, Winslow made a big-time play. He drove into traffic and made a layup while being fouled, then added the free throw.
"He played phenomenal. He was outstanding. He was the best player on the floor," Okafor said. "Maybe because he's in Houston or maybe because he's 19 now. It was fun to watch."
Gonzaga 74, UCLA 62: Growing up in Poland, Przemek Karnowski had to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. to watch the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga's big man got to star in the show in prime time on Friday night, scoring 18 points with nine rebounds to lead the second-seeded Bulldogs to a 74-62 win over No. 11 seed UCLA in the Houston Regional semifinals.
The victory puts Gonzaga (35-2) in the Elite Eight for the second time, its first regional final since 1999. The Bulldogs will play the winner of the Utah-Duke game on Sunday.
UCLA (22-14) opened the second half with a 6-0 run to get within 35-34. Gonzaga got going after that, scoring the next 12 points, thanks to the powerful inside game of the 7-foot-1, 288-pound Karnowski to make it 47-34.
"For me it was always a dream to be here and to play deep into the NCAA Tournament," Karnowski said. "And right now I'm here and I'm trying to enjoy every second of it."
Karnowski helped the Bulldogs grab six more offensive rebounds than UCLA, which Bruins coach Steve Alford believes was the key to the game.
"We didn't rebound the basketball," Alford said. "They got too many second shots."
Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer raved about Karnowski's work.
"He was a beast down there, just gobbling up offensive boards," Wiltjer said. "It's so easy for us, especially when we're on the perimeter, to just throw it down to him and he gets a bucket."
The Bruins, who lost in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, were done in by a tough shooting night that included long stretches without scoring. They were led by Norman Powell's 16 points.
They quieted doubters who questioned whether they should be in the tournament by winning their first two games, but couldn't stay with the Bulldogs on a night when their shots weren't falling. Powell made just 8 of 19 shots and Bryce Alford was 3 of 11.
It's Gonzaga's second win over UCLA this season after also beating the Bruins in December. Gonzaga's only loss to UCLA in the four-game history of the series came in a 73-71 defeat in the regional semifinal in 2006.
It will be the first trip to the round of eight for Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who took over the season after they last made it.
"The one accomplishment that we haven't done is reach the Final Four and we finally have an opportunity to do that," Few said.
The Bruins couldn't find any offense as Gonzaga built its lead early in the second half.
Domantas Sabonis drew ooh's and ahh's from the crowd when the 6-10 Lithuanian grabbed a bounce pass from Karnowski and sailed over Isaac Hamilton for a one-handed dunk that made it 51-37 with 11 minutes remaining.
Karnowski found Sabonis again a few minutes later, when he passed it behind his back and Sabonis finished with a layup to push the lead to 14 points.
Gonzaga was up 13-10 less than six minutes into the game when both offenses went cold, combining to miss the next 19 shots.
There were missed layups, shots from the outside that clanged off the rim and even a couple of air balls. No matter what either team tried, they simply couldn't make a shot for about 6 1/2 minutes. Gonzaga extended the lead a bit with three free throws.
Powell finally ended the field goal drought when he drove into the lane and his layup mercifully fell through the net to cut the lead to 16-12 about eight minutes before halftime. The Bulldogs scored a few seconds later on a jump shot by Karnowski.
Gonzaga led 35-28 at halftime.