As his 47-year head coaching career both winds to a close and trudges up the sport's summit one last time, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has now reached three milestones in three consecutive victories, the latest marking his record-setting 13th Final Four appearance, as No. 2 seed Duke defeated No. 4 seed Arkansas 78-69 on Saturday night. Krzyzewski broke a tie with former UCLA coach John Wooden, who had 12 Final Four appearances in his career.
The latest victory follows his 100th career NCAA tournament victory, which came against Texas Tech in the Sweet 16, and his 1,200th career win, which came against Michigan State in the second round. Now, the Blue Devils are just two wins away from a sixth national championship, which would tie rival North Carolina for third all-time. Coincidentally, the eighth-seeded Tar Heels are one of the Blue Devils' two potential opponents in the Final Four, along with No. 15 seed Saint Peter's, which is arguably the most unlikely Cinderella in the sport's history as it is the first school to ever reach the Elite Eight as a No. 13, No. 14, No. 15 or No. 16 seed.
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A 3-pointer from freshman guard Trevor Keels put Duke up 45-33 at halftime — a shot that prompted color analyst Bill Raftery to call it a "dagger," despite there being 20 minutes left in the game. It was Duke's largest lead of the first half, which saw the two sides trade baskets for the first eight minutes. Wendell Moore Jr.'s offensive rebound and putback put Duke ahead 16-14 with 12:08 left in the half and the Blue Devils never trailed again. Arkansas reserve guard Chris Lykes sank a pair of free throws with 2:14 left in the opening stanza to cut the Duke advantage to 37-33, but the Blue Devils finished the half on an 8-0 run, capitalized by the 3-pointer from Keels, just a 31.5-percent 3-point shooter.
Playing a short rotation — just seven players, six of whom played 195 of the 200 total minutes — Duke had a balanced but deadly scoring attack, with four players who scored in double figures, led by star freshmen AJ Griffin, who had a team-high 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and Paolo Banchero, who had 16 points.
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In the official Bracket Challenge Game, 17.31 percent of entries correctly picked Duke to reach the Final Four. The Blue Devils were the fourth-most popular national champion pick, as Duke was the choice in 6.52 percent of brackets, ahead of No. 1 seed Baylor. It's Duke's fifth Final Four appearance as a No. 2 seed under Krzyzewski, with seven others coming as a No. 1 seed and once as a No. 3 seed.
The national semifinals will be held in the Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday, April 2.
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