SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Krzyzewski, veteran Army point guard, was rescued by his young Duke point guard. Jeremy Roach won a big game for him Thursday night the way Bobby Hurley used to win big games for him, driving fearlessly into the lane, sinking knights and making the plays that make winning NCAA quarterbacks.
So Coach K’s unrivaled career lives on for at least one more night. His second-placed Blue Devils ended up being tougher than third-placed Texas Tech, which is saying a mouthful considering the Red Raiders are as tough and physical as they come.
But in the final minutes there was Roach, who sliced and rolled Texas Tech’s famous no-middle defense and delivered the extra points needed for freshman sensation Paolo Banchero, who led Duke at 22. And there was Archbishop Stepinac’s AJ Griffin in White Plains, who made both ends of a one-and-one with 12.9 seconds left to effectively for Coach K’s 100th NCAA tournament win and a trip to the Elite Eight against Arkansas to seal.
The Razorbacks beat No. 1 seed overall Gonzaga by playing ugly ball. The Red Raiders tried the same with the Blue Devils but it didn’t work. Krzyzewski left the Chase Center with a career #1,201 win, a 78-73 decision, and a cleaner path to his 13th Final Four.
Coach K’s players were much more heavily recruited than Mark Adams’ players, but they were also younger and less physically mature. Tech’s top scorer Bryson Williams is a sixth grader who turns 24 next month. Duke’s top scorer Banchero is a fit freshman who won’t turn 20 until November. This was a fight between grown males and young males, and usually the grown males win.
“They probably have as many transfers as any other program in the country,” Krzyzewski had said. “We have one of the youngest teams, if not the youngest team I’ve coached and you’re trying to build habits.”
The Sweet 16 is a difficult place to build habit, especially against a defense Krzyzewski says is probably the best in the nation. The tenacity of the Red Raiders appealed to Coach K, as did the unpaved path of their freshman year head coach Adams, who was 65 when he finally landed a job as head coach in the big leagues.
Krzyzewski said Adams learned the game from bus stop to bus stop rather than through the convenience of first-class airline tickets. “You don’t make a lot of money at the bus stops,” said Coach K. You better love what you do.”
Nobody loved what he did more than Krzyzewski, who made the big bucks and still trains like he’s desperate and broke. Immediately after his 1,200. Last Sunday’s win at Michigan State’s expense left Coach K in the most stunned way longtime Duke observers had seen after an NCAA prelim game. He choked as he looked down at his players at the post-match press conference and said: “You guys were great man. I’m really proud to be your coach. It had nothing to do with working out the last four or five minutes. It had to do with heart and togetherness. They followed their hearts and God bless them.”
When Krzyzewski announced his retirement in June 2021, it was clear that the upcoming winning streak would be both a blessing and a curse for his 42nd and final Duke team. the blessing? More attention from coast to coast for the five or six potential NBA players on the roster meant more opportunities for those prospects to prove to executives and scouts that they can perform at their best under extreme pressure.
The curse? The pressure would be about the same as any collegiate team had ever experienced.
When asked about the implications of announcing his retirement ahead of time, rather than officially calling it a career after his last game, as did North Carolina rivals Dean Smith and Roy Williams, for example, Krzyzewski said: “It’s a bit of a strain on you, because everywhere you go, everyone takes a picture of you and watches everything. Look, this is getting old. you know this is getting old
“But I feel for my boys. They’ve been put under pressure that we’re not putting on them. I tell them all the time, ‘We’re playing for us, for you.’ It’s not a sinister plot against us or anything, but it just happens.”
Krzyzewski’s players handled that pressure with unusual grace. The ultra-young Blue Devils appeared to be five points down on Michigan State with five minutes left and appeared to be in big, deep trouble. But instead of collapsing under the weight of Coach K’s impending departure (Tom Izzo’s words), they’ve grown up in a hurry and fought their way to San Francisco.
“They are good players, but they are really good guys,” said Krzyzewski. “You don’t just go to those Sweet 16s with talent. You do it with character. My teams had that. It’s not like I gave them that. We recruited and used that.”
In his last season, Krzyzewski’s players showed their true character and composure under extraordinary circumstances. They did it by winning and tallying 31 games and getting promoted to the Elite Eight.
They’ve also done it, enduring a remarkably unique season without much trouble. That was the Blue Devils’ greatest gift to Coach K, who gets at least one more NCAA tournament night.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/25/march-madness-2022-duke-outlasts-texas-tech-to-reach-elite-8/ Duke outlasts Texas Tech to reach Elite 8