INDIANAPOLIS – After tossing a big, wet blanket on one feel-good story, Duke gets to go after another.
Jon Scheyer scored 23 points Saturday night to lift Duke, the team so many folks love to hate, to a 78-57 victory over West Virginia and set up a meeting against tiny Butler – a classic matchup of big vs. little, with the national title on the line.
“I think they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his upcoming opponent, which has won 25 straight. “I think a Cinderella would be more if somebody had eight or nine losses and pulled some upsets.”
Still, Butler is a No. 5 seed, and in a tournament turned upside down, the Blue Devils (34-5) were the only No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four.
Their trip, however, wasn’t totally predictable or expected. Duke had gone six long years since its last appearance and hasn’t been to the final since winning it all nine years ago – a veritable century by Tobacco Road standards. Now, this group of Blue Devils has a chance to give Coach K his fourth national championship.
“It’s everything,” senior center Brian Zoubek said. “This is the culmination of four years for me. To have a shot at the championship my senior year, after everything we’ve been through, is a dream come true.”
This was a wire-to-wire pullaway against the West Virginia team coached by alum Bob Huggins, who led the Mountaineers (31-7) on a 10-game winning streak that included the Big East tournament title and ended with a Final Four trip.
It was an inspiring journey, the first for West Virginia in 51 years, when Jerry West wore the old gold and blue.
Huggins returned to West Virginia to bring an elusive title back home to a state that loves its flagship school like few others. But any chance of that ended with 8:59 left, when the Mountaineers’ star, Da’Sean Butler, twisted his left knee and, to add insult to injury, got called for a charge as he crumpled to the ground.
The sequence left him writhing in pain under the basket and his coach, the “Huggy Bear,” came out to the floor, first to yell at the refs, then to kneel down and tenderly cup the head of his star – the player who, more than anyone, made this run possible.
“He just told me not to worry about it, that I’ll be fine,” Butler said. “And I told him that it hurts right now, but if I can get back out there, then I’ll get back out there.”
He didn’t. The 17-point-per-game scorer finished with 10, and was held to a mere basket in the first half while the Blue Devils were building their lead to as many as 13. Wellington Smith led the Mountaineers with 12 points.
Meanwhile, Duke stayed on a road that could lead to the school’s fourth championship despite the lack of a true superstar or an NBA lottery pick – no Christian Laettners or Shane Battiers or Grant Hills on this squad.
Instead, this is a group of players who do what they do well and fill their roles perfectly.