ANAHEIM, Calif. – Derrick Williams carried Arizona in the first half, keeping the Wildcats in the game against Duke. His teammates returned the favor in the final 20 minutes with an offensive barrage that stunned the defending national champions.
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Williams scored 25 of his career-high 32 points in the first half of Arizona’s 93-77 victory Thursday night, helping the Wildcats reach the final eight for the first time since 2005.
“As a team, we came together and willed ourselves to win,” said Lamont Jones, who added 16 points. “Derrick is a great player, but we all contribute.”
The top-seeded Blue Devils (32-5) were sent packing from a regional semifinal for the second time in three years. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, with 900 wins, will have to wait until next season to resume his pursuit of Bob Knight’s record as the winningest men’s coach in Division I history.
“The tournament is cruel,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s an abrupt end for everybody when you don’t win.”
Solomon Hill added 13 points for the Wildcats, who shot 54 percent and made 9 of 15 3-pointers, including five by Williams.
Williams had 13 rebounds to help his team dominate the boards, 40-27, while playing 15 minutes from his hometown of La Mirada.
“It makes me feel great,” he said. “If we win this game on Saturday, we’ll be known as one of the greatest Arizona teams to play.”
Fifth-seeded Arizona (30-7) will play Connecticut (29-9) on Saturday in the West Regional final. The third-seeded Huskies defeated No. 2 San Diego State 74-67 in the other semifinal.
“A lot of people counted us out,” Jones said. “We kept on beating on the door, beating on the door until we were in.”
Duke’s Kryie Irving scored 28 points in his most minutes since returning at the start of the NCAA tournament after missing 26 games with a toe injury.
“After we lost the lead, I think everyone got a little rattled,” he said. “We tried to settle down, but by then it was too late.”
Kyle Singler added 18 as one of three Blue Devils in second-half foul trouble. Nolan Smith was held to eight points — well under the senior’s 21-point average.
“The way they played in the second half, they should win it all,” Smith said. “Williams is a monster. They hit us full force, and kept hitting. They did everything right, and we did a ton of things wrong.”
Down by six points early in the second half, the Wildcats unleashed a scoring rampage that left the Blue Devils wondering what happened.
Williams scored just two points during the 19-2 run that seemingly came out of nowhere, while five of his teammates did the rest, hitting from long range, driving to the basket and scoring off a fast break.
“They just got on a real roll. When you get on a roll, you have more energy than the other guy,” Krzyzewski said. “We had no stop for them, and you kind of get overwhelmed there for a little bit. They knocked us back and got that double-digit lead.”
Jones’ basket tied the game at 53 and the spurt ended with Arizona leading 66-55, its first double-digit lead of the game. Jones and Jamelle Horne had five points each, while Williams focused on rebounding.
“The second half was just complete nastiness, as coach would say,” Kevin Parrom said. “We came out swinging. We didn’t let up. We knew they were just going to focus on Derrick and that’s when other guys came in and stepped up. It shows that it’s not just Derrick Williams who is on this team.”
Horne’s dunk extended Arizona’s lead to 77-63 as the Wildcats’ fans roared, thrilled to see their team making a deep run in the tournament a season after the school’s 25-year streak of consecutive appearances ended.
The Wildcats closed the first half on an 18-13 run, capped by Williams’ 3-pointer just before the buzzer, that left them trailing 44-38. He hit back-to-back shots from the same spot at the top of the 3-point line during the spurt in which his teammates contributed just five points.
The Wildcats closed within one point earlier in the half, and Duke responded by outscoring them 14-7, including eight in a row, to take its largest lead, 31-20.
Irving didn’t start the game, but he quickly had an impact once he got in. He scored seven points in the run that built Duke’s biggest lead.
Irving came in as one of the nation’s most touted freshmen, and he scored double figures in all 11 games he played in his abbreviated season. He has yet to decide if he’ll return or enter the NBA draft.
“I could definitely see myself wearing a Duke uniform again,” he said. “I don’t want to take it off right now.”