March 25, 2011
Derrick Williams has been the hero of Arizona's NCAA tournament.
And while Williams may not have needed a game-saving or winning play in the 93-77 rout of Duke on Thursday, Williams did give his team the belief that it could topple the defending national champion by hanging 25 on the Blue Devils in the first half and displaying ridiculous dunks that are usually reserved for Blake Griffin's nightly highlight reel.
Williams' 25 points, which he would ultimately turn into a career-high 32, kept Arizona in a game where it looked severely overmatched. No other player had more than four points for the Wildcats, but they went into halftime down just 44-38.
Williams' effort became contagious in the second half as the rest of the Wildcats found their confidence, took control of the game with 15 minutes remaining and never looked back.
While Williams wasn't a factor in that run, once the pressure was off him to be the dominant scorer, he started having fun and showing off some of his amazing athleticism. He had no fear talking the ball to the rim for contested dunks and he grabbed 13 rebounds. He kept the Duke defense on its heels by making five of his six attempts from 3-point range.
As chronicled in Jeff Eisenberg's piece from Wednesday, Williams was a diamond in the rough. He was not highly recruited and was the least heralded recruit in Arizona's class two years ago. But at the West Regional in Anaheim, Calif., on the very court he played high school playoffs while at La Mirada High, Williams seemingly channeled all that recruiting frustration into one of his best performances to date. And he did so against a Duke team that was a 9 1/2-point favorite.
It's widely speculated that Williams will declare for the NBA draft after the season and with each dynamic play, he's making himself a lot of money, but he's also bringing prominence back to an Arizona program that hasn't seen an Elite Eight berth since 2005.