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.
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).
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.
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