Thank you 'Zona! It was beautiful watching dook choke away a lead and get demolished tonight on the way to their fifth Sweet 16 loss as a #1 seed. Derrick Williams kept his team afloat with 25 first half points, and the cavalry came in the second half to put dook away.
It really seemed like dook got punched in the mouth and didn't know how to respond. Kyrie Irving made some plays to keep them in it, but Nolan Smith looked completely rattled. Seth Curry got banged up, Kyle Singler got in foul trouble, and the rest of the team could do nothing to help out. Ryan Kelly and the Plumlees brought their F game.
It's not often that you see dook give up like they did tonight. To Coach K's credit, he usually has his team ready to play in big game situations, but having success against them is all about taking and withstanding their initial punches. K can motivate his guys to run through a wall for him, so they'll usually come out fired up - but it's hard for a team to sustain that kind of intensity for 40 minutes. Usually, all they have to do is come out and punch the other team in the mouth, and they've set the tone for the game. The opponent will back down and run away like a scared animal.
Arizona didn't do that. Outside of Williams, they struggled in the first half, but they obviously knew how lucky they were to be down only 6 at the half. They knew dook couldn't come out and sustain that same intensity for another 20 minutes. dook thought they had taken Arizona's best shot, and they thought a fast start to the second half would put 'Zona away. On the other hand, the Wildcats knew if they fought back, dook wouldn't know how to handle it. Arizona wisely kept attacking even after grabbing the lead and building on it, and dook didn't know what to do. They got cold from the outside, and Arizona was manhandling them inside. Even Coach K was stumped, as he showed when he inserted Tyler Thornton into the lineup. He was grasping at straws at that point, and that was the moment I knew this game was over.
It's definitely sweet to see dook go down like this. They were the darling coming into the season, heralded by all as a certain Final Four team and likely repeat champion. The Kyrie Irving injury changed things, but I was definitely glad to see him heal up and make it back in the lineup. I wanted it for the kid because I didn't want him to not get the chance to play in the NCAA tourney. As much hatred as I have for dook, I couldn't wish that on a player. The other reason I was glad to see him play is that it takes away the excuse that dook didn't have Kyrie. As the year progressed after his injury, Kyrie's legend grew greater and greater among the dook fanbase and the media. If he hadn't played in the tourney and dook had lost, that would have been a built-in excuse for dook. As it was, he played - and played pretty well. So, that excuse goes out the window.
I do think his return created some chemistry problems, despite what anyone might say. That doesn't necessarily mean any players were disgruntled or didn't want Kyrie to return. I believe they all wanted him back. It just means that they didn't know what their roles were now that he was back. Nolan Smith looked like a completely different player with Irving playing, for instance. He didn't know when to defer and when to take over, and what made dook a great team at times this year was when Smith took over games.
Still, it seemed like they might be able to get past that and perhaps get back to being a dominant team. A part of me feared that once dook got past Michigan last week, they were also past any potential chemistry issues related to Kyrie's return. Not so, says Arizona.
Going forward, it will be strange seeing dook next year without Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. Despite what you think about them, they were definitely the heart and soul of this dook team. If Irving returns, I think they still have a chance to be really good. If he goes pro, as I suspect he might, then it will be a completely different feel to next year's dookies. I'm sure they'll still be a great team, but they won't have the experience that this year's squad had. I do know enough about Austin Rivers to know that he will be easy to pull against....
For now, here's to celebrating the end to dook's 2011 season!