Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett take over as Duke downs final undefeated team in Virginia

Jack BaerWriter
Yahoo Sports
Duke’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/players/147096/" data-ylk="slk:Zion Williamson">Zion Williamson</a> reacts following a basket against Virginia during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Duke’s Zion Williamson reacts following a basket against Virginia during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Some consternation was made over Duke losing point guard Tre Jones to a shoulder injury ahead of its huge matchup against Virginia on Saturday. It didn’t change one simple fact: the Blue Devils have Zion Williamson and R.J Barrett, and every team they play does not.

Duke drove and dunked its way to a close 72-70 win over Virginia in arguably its biggest game of the season, taking down the last undefeated team in college basketball after Michigan’s loss at Wisconsin earlier in the day.

The path to victory was paved by Williamson and Barrett, who combined for 57 points (Barrett with 30 and Williamson with 27) on 21-of-35 shooting. Together, the pair combined for 79 percent of the Blue Devils’ points.

How Virginia-Duke went down

With Williamson supplying the fireworks, Duke looked in control for most of the first half. The Blue Devils entered halftime up 37-33 after Williamson submitted multiple entries into what was already the longest highlight reel in college basketball.

Twitter particularly went wild when Williamson landed an off-hand slam after driving through nearly the entire UVA team and past 7-footer Jack Salt in the paint, a play which really shows what sets the 18-year-old apart from his peers.

A quick run early in the second half pulled Virginia back into the game. What followed was an absurd number of lead changes for nearly 10 minutes, just the kind of competitive game college basketball fans were hoping for with the historic matchup.

Duke eventually pulled away in the last five minutes, still disproportionately powered by Williamson and Barrett, until it found itself up 69-61 with 44 seconds to play. Virginia mounted a small comeback while fouling the Blue Devils at every opportunity, but it simply wasn’t enough on what figures to be a signature game for two of the NBA draft’s top prospects.

Virginia loses title of NCAA’s lone undefeated team

The Cavaliers were able to enjoy the title of college basketball’s final undefeated team for about six hours. That was all the time between Michigan’s fall at the Kohl Center and when time ran out at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The reasons Virginia lost went beyond simply playing two guys likely to be taken in the top three of the NBA draft. Simply put, the Cavaliers’ greatest strengths failed them. The team went a horrific 3-of-17 from the 3-point line and their six missed free throws represented their second-highest total of the season.

While the game was close nearly the entire game, Duke’s switch to a 2-3 zone later represented a curveball that Virginia mostly whiffed on thanks to the incredible collection of length and athleticism in the Duke lineup. Duke also managed to stay competitive on the offensive glass, an area where Virginia is used to having the advantage.

However, there was still some good news for Virginia, or at least its bettors, with the loss. De’Andre Hunter’s last-second bucket meant the Cavaliers beat the spread.

What does the AP Poll look like on Monday?

Duke’s win was the climax of a chaotic week in college basketball, in which four of the top seven teams in the AP rankings fell. It was nearly five, but No. 3 Tennessee managed to pull it out late against Alabama on Saturday.

Virginia would almost certainly have vaulted to the top of the rankings if it had managed to take down Duke, but that didn’t happen. Even with the big win, Duke was already on unsure footing thanks to its shocking loss to Syracuse earlier in the week. Michigan lost and No. 7 Kansas somehow lost to West Virginia.

Tennessee might be the favorite to be No. 1 when the poll is released on Monday by virtue of being the top-ranked team to not lose this week, but the strength of Duke’s win on Saturday might be enough to let it hang on to the top spot.

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