Duke’s Kyle Singler is closing in on a scoring milestone, but it’s fellow senior Nolan Smith who has been more effective on offense lately.
In a game expected to feature Singler reaching 2,000 points, Smith looks to keep his hot shooting going as the top-ranked Blue Devils face visiting Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday night.
Singler is five points shy of becoming the 11th player in Duke history to score 2,000, but he’s coming off one of his worst shooting performances of the season, a 5-for-15 night in Sunday’s 74-63 win over Miami. Singler had 14 points - 3.5 below his season average - as he shot below 40 percent for the second time in three games.
Smith has been no worse than 60 percent from the field in four consecutive games, averaging 24.5 points while making 10 of 14 from 3-point range. He had a season-high 28 and hit four 3-pointers Sunday, raising his team-leading scoring average to 18.6.
“Nolan is playing great right now,” sophomore Andre Dawkins told the school’s official website. “He never gets tired out there. He has one of the toughest (defensive) assignments on the team night in and night out, and he keeps playing as well as he has, it really gives us a lift.”
Smith also has averaged 6.6 assists in the past five games to help atone for the absence of starting point guard Kyrie Irving, out indefinitely with an injured right big toe. The freshman got a new cast earlier this week, and the team might have a better timetable on when or if he will return after some further testing.
In the meantime, the Blue Devils (13-0) will try to extend their NCAA-best, 23-game win streak by topping the Blazers (10-2), who are searching for a season-high fifth straight victory.
Duke averages 89.3 points to rank second in the nation but is facing a UAB team holding opponents to 58.6 per game on 38.6 percent shooting.
The Blazers limited George Washington to 22 points in each half during their most recent win, 79-44 on Dec. 27.
Jamarr Sanders, averaging a team-best 17.3 points, scored 23 in that victory. Aaron Johnson set a single-season school record with his fifth game reaching double figures in assists as he matched a career high with 12. Johnson is among the NCAA leaders with 8.3 per game.
While his teammates thrived, Cameron Moore continued to cool off from his hot start with 10 points. Moore has averaged 9.3 on 37.9 percent shooting in his last three games after averaging 19.7 and shooting 60.5 percent in his first nine.
The Blazers could use a resurgent effort from their junior forward in their fourth matchup with a No. 1 team. UAB has gone 1-2 in those games with the lone win coming against Kentucky in the 2004 NCAA tournament.
The Blazers are 3-2 on the road this season and have won 12 of 17 there.
At Cameron Indoor Stadium, however, Duke has won 27 straight overall, 49 in a row against unranked teams and 84 straight over non-conference opponents.
“We just have to come out focused and ready,” Johnson said. “We just got to make sure we get up at Cameron. We shouldn’t let the crowd and us playing Duke affect our emotions.”
Duke is 2-0 all-time against UAB but hasn’t faced the Blazers since the 1985 preseason NIT.