By Brett Dolan


Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

When the final horn sounded at NRG Stadium Sunday afternoon, the Duke Blue Devils had defeated Gonzaga 66-52 to win the South Regional and Mike Krzyzewski had earned the opportunity to take his 12th team to a Final Four. Yet he made it sound like he was the one, along for the ride.

“I’ve said it the whole year,” he said. “I love my team. I love my team. They are a pleasure to be with and as a result they’re taking me to Indy, which is kind of neat.”

It’s also historic. Coach K’s 12 Final Four, ties him with John Wooden as the most by any head coach in NCAA history.

On a day his team shot 37.5% percent from the field, was outscored in the paint by 16 points and got exactly zero bench points, the Blue Devils still won by 14. In fact in their four NCAA Tournament games, they won by an average of 17 points.

But the most amazing number is eight, as in the number of players on the roster. Four of the eight are freshmen. Yet the Blue Devils were able to live up to the annually high expectations of a program where fans almost assume the team will be in the hunt for a Final Four every year. Right, Coach K?

“We have eight guys,” he said. “Come on. Four of them are freshmen. It’s the youngest team I’ve ever had. No one would ever say that because we’re Duke or because it’s me. There’s not somebody hiding in the locker room that’s going to come out and appear. And four freshmen. They’ve been spectacular. It’s been such an incredible year.”

One of the freshmen stars is Houston native Justice Winslow, who followed up a 21 point, 10 rebound performance against Utah, with 16 more points against Gonzaga.

“He had a great tournament,” said Coach K. “It doesn’t surprise me about Justice. Justice is a very special young man, not just a special basketball player.”

Winslow got some help from Desoto native Matt Jones who contributed a career high four-three pointers and 16 points.

“Matt gave us such a huge lift,” admitted Krzyzewski. “He’s been the dirty-work guy and for him to hit those four- three’s, it’s like a big difference. The two Texas kids did pretty good today. They played pretty well (combined to score 32 of Duke’s 66 points).”

The Dukies defense also limited the highest scoring major tier program in the country to just 52 points.

“I think for these four games, we’ve played outstanding defense,” Krzyzewski said.

Coach K’s outstanding season included passing the 1,000 career win total. Now he has added his 12th Final Four, with a chance for a fifth national championship in Indianapolis. It might be more than a little frightening for other college coaches to know that Krzyzewski says he is still learning and getting better as a coach.

“A teacher should learn with every new year that he or she has an opportunity to teach, because the students can bring out new things for you,” he explained. “I think when you stop learning, you should retire, you know, in whatever you do. Learning is what keeps you fresh and so I will try to learn a little bit more going to Saturday.”

Saturday brings a date with Michigan State in Indianapolis. Spartans coach Tom Izzo is no stranger to tournament success and his team has already played Duke once this year, in Indy. Duke toped Michigan State 81-71 back in November in the State Farm Champions Classic.

Saturday’s game will have much more meaning and it will mark yet another chance for Krzyzewski’s teams to shine on the sport’s biggest stage.

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