Arizona downs Duke in NIT Tip-Off final

Everett Merrill, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- In a matchup of fabulous freshmen, a junior made the difference in Arizona's 72-66 win over Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off final on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
Nick Johnson led No. 4 Arizona (7-0) with 15 points, all but two coming in the second half when the Wildcats overcame Duke's three-point lead at intermission.
Arizona claimed its fourth tournament title. It won in 1990, 1995 and 2009. The Wildcats are 22-2 in the tournament.
Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker scored 19 points and Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon had 10 points and seven rebounds. They were both named to the all-tournament team.
The 6-foot-8 Parker struggled against Arizona's physical interior defense and was 7 of 21 from the field. He came into the game shooting 60 percent from the floor.
In addition to Johnson, the rest of Arizona's starters scored in double figures. Brandon Ashley had 13 points and Kaleb Tarczewski and T.J. McConnell added 10 points apiece.
Rodney Hood paced Duke (6-2) with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Johnson, the tournament MVP, tied the score at 45 when he drilled a 3-pointer with 11:07 left in the game. That started a 16-6 run by the Wildcats that ended with 3:58 to play and Arizona comfortably ahead 61-51.
Johnson and Gordon scored five points apiece in the run.
"I was just trying to stay with it," Johnson said of his second-half performance. "I got into foul trouble early in the first half and it kind of got my rhythm a little down, but I just tried to stay with it.
"T.J. (McConnell) found me on a few plays and I just knocked down the shots."
The Wildcats enjoyed a frontcourt height advantage over the quicker Blue Devils, outrebounding them 36-28.
"We talked all year about how we don't have a center," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We have good players and we have to figure out how to be good with the players we have.
"We're not going to win unless Jabari (Parker) and Rodney (Hood) shoot the ball. They (Arizona) have taller guys and if you do get the ball around the basket they're 6-9 or 6-10, that's a big front line.
"We don't practice against that. Two things you can't practice against is length and quickness. We have quickness, but not length."
Arizona coach Sean Miller credited Gordon's patience for the freshman's fine second half. Gordon scored eight of his 10 points in the second half, playing the full 20 minutes.
"He (Gordon) stayed patient," Miller said, "which is one of the qualities that he has as player. I chose not to play him a lot in the first half because he was in foul trouble, but we as a group have to find more ways to use his offensive talent even more.
"He's such a unique player. You can put him in different positions and he can really excel. You would think that someone 6-8 would not be good in a ball-screen and pick-and-roll action, but he's very good in that."
Quinn Cook's 3-pointer gave Duke its largest lead of the night at 43-37 with 13:47 remaining.
Neither team maintained more than a five-point lead in the first half, as the score was tied 11 times.
A Parker two-handed dunk and a runner from Tyler Thornton gave Duke a 36-33 edge at the half after Brandon Ashley's layup for the Wildcats tied it 32-32 with 1:11 left.
Parker, Cook and Hood combined for 28 of Duke's 36 first-half points. Gordon was limited to two points and took only two shots from the floor in seven minutes.
NOTES: Duke defeated Arizona 82-72 in the 2001 national championship game. In the next and most recent meeting, the Wildcats won 93-77 in the regional semifinals of the 2011 NCAA tournament. ... The Blue Devils played in their 220th straight game as a top-10 team in the AP poll. Duke is 182-37 (.831) during that span. ... Arizona PG J.T. McConnell owns a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. ... Arizona sophomore C Kaleb Tarczewski posted his first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds in the semifinal win over Drexel. ... Duke PG Quinn Cook leads the ACC in assists (7.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (5.4 to 1).

What to Read Next