With Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in foul trouble in Monday’s NCAA title game, it seemed Duke was on the ropes. Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened for the Blue Devils’ chances.
Okafor (10 points, three rebounds, four fouls in 22 minutes) was largely ineffective. Winslow (11 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, three fouls in 32 minutes) was having a so-so night, by his standards.
Both have a slightly negative effect on the game in the plus-minus rating – Okafor at -4, Winslow at -2.
With both on the bench with three fouls at the 13:26 mark of the second half, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had to, out of necessity, go small, with Amile Jefferson in the middle and four guards.
The change sped the game up noticeably. After a Frank Kaminsky layup at the 13:23 mark gave Wisconsin a 48-39 lead, Duke went on a quick 11-3 run over the next 2:49 to pull within one, sparked by Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen.
Allen scored eight straight after the Kaminsky hoop, and then it was Jones, who scored 13 points in the final 10:42.
With the offense humming, the small lineup also performed better defensively than the lineup that Krzyzewski probably would have preferred to use.
Wisconsin, college basketball’s most efficient offensive unit on the season, scored just 15 points after the Kaminsky layup in the final 13:23, shooting 6-of-20 (30 percent) from the field with two turnovers and averaging .750 points per possession over the final 13:23, after shooting 19-of-41 (46.3 percent) from the field with three turnovers and averaging 1.23 points per possession in the first 26:47 of game action.
Jones (23 points) walked away with the Most Outstanding Player trophy, but it might have been Amile Jefferson who was the most valuable player. Jefferson had two in 21 minutes, but his defense in the post down the stretch took Wisconsin out of what it had been doing.
Jefferson (who also had seven rebounds and three blocks) ended the night with the best plus-minus rating of anybody who played in the title game, with a +11.
– Column by Chris Graham