CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It might seem as if Kentucky coach John Calipari has cornered the market on world-class freshmen, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski recently said the key to survival in this “one-and-done’’ environment is learning to adapt.
Coach K didn't become the first 1,000-game winner in Division I without managing that skill, and his freshman trio of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones looked very formidable in a dominating 68-49 NCAA Tournament third-round victory over San Diego State on Sunday at TCW Arena.
The top-seeded Blue Devils (31-4) advanced to meet Utah (26-8) on Friday in a Sweet 16 game in the South Regional in Houston.
Duke began the game with an 18-6 run and the Aztecs (27-9) never got closer than seven again. Okafor, who likely is vying with Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns to become the No. 1 NBA draft pick, had 26 points and shot 12-for-16. Winslow, who might be a lottery pick if he declares, had a tremendous all-around game with 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. Jones scored only six points but had six assists and combined with senior guard Quinn Cook (15 points) to use their backcourt speed to create openings for Okafor.
"Justise, his defensive rebounding was huge, and his play throughout was huge,'' Krzyzewski said. "And then Jah, his scoring inside to get that percentage of shots and makes against the San Diego State defense that is one of the best in the country, was terrific. My guards handled the ball well, and we're going to Houston.''
San Diego State's size was a major factor in its second-round victory over St. John's, but 6-10 Skylar Spencer and 6-8 Winston Shepard, who topped the cold-shooting Aztecs (32.8 percent) with 13 points, were overpowered by the 6-11, 270-pound Okafor.
"I played against big players before, but I haven't played against anybody that big with that skill set," Spencer said. "It was kind of hard to fight with him without getting called for a foul . . . I'll take the blame. I allowed a lot of points from him, so I feel like I let my team down.''
The Aztecs cut Duke's lead to 44-37 midway through the second half, but the Blue Devils responded with a 20-2 run, including six points from Okafor and five by Cook, to decide matters. "Our guards were phenomenal,'' Okafor said. "They found me multiple times to give me easy opportunities to score, and they were giving me all the confidence in the world. Their quickness gave San Diego State a problem.''
Okafor's inspired play might be traced to a moment in Duke's win over Robert Morris on Friday night when he blew a reverse dunk because he was out of gas. Krzyzewski benched him and let him hear about it.
"He shouldn't have done that, and he takes responsibility for it, just like he should take responsibility for playing great tonight,'' Krzyzewski said.
He credited Winslow for taking the Blue Devils "to a whole other level.'' Beaming over his two future NBA picks, Krzyzewski added, "Those two kids really played great games this afternoon, big-time games.''