CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jahlil Okafor showed off all the moves — a spin, a dribble drive, a short jumper — that have made Duke’s freshman big man possibly the nation’s top player.
When he’s playing like that, the Blue Devils have a shot to finish as the nation’s best team right alongside him.
Okafor scored 18 of his 26 points in a dominating first half and top-seeded Duke beat San Diego State 68-49 on Sunday in the NCAA Tournament, sending the freshmen-led Blue Devils back to the Sweet 16 to continue their push for coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fifth national title.
“It would mean the world to me,” Okafor said. “I’ve always wanted to win a national title. … That’s what (the freshmen) came to Duke to have an opportunity to win a national title. That is where all of my focus has been this season and that is what it is still is.”
Duke — holding a No. 1 seed for the 11th time in 18 seasons but its first since 2011 — advanced to face fifth-seeded Utah in Houston’s South Regional semifinals. The Blue Devils (31-4) reached the Sweet 16 for the 22nd time under Coach K, who said this group featuring four freshmen among its eight scholarship players is still improving.
“They’re together,” Krzyzewski said. “We have talent, we’re getting older by experience, and so we just — we got better here these two games.”
Fellow freshman Justise Winslow added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Duke, which shot 55 percent against the eighth-seeded Aztecs (27-9) two days after shooting 63 percent against 16th-seeded Robert Morris.
Okafor scored 21 on 9-for-11 shooting against the seriously undersized Colonials, then made 12 of 16 shots against the Aztecs — who had size to wrestle with him but no way to stop him.
“Okafor is a load,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. “He is hard to guard. … But he’s not the lone ranger. Winslow can play. They have a terrific team and they can play. They played like a No. 1 team today.”
Winslow put on his own show with five assists, four steals and three blocks, one a jaw-dropper on JJ O’Brien at the rim. That set the ball loose in transition for Quinn Cook to bury a 3-pointer, then pretend to holster pistols as he turned to run back up the court — a sign that the Blue Devils were completely at ease and rolling with a confident strut.
The Aztecs were trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time under Fisher, but San Diego State — with a few players and coaches battling a stomach ailment — got off to a bad start and struggled to slow Duke early.
They made their best push to close a 37-24 halftime deficit to 44-37 on a 3-pointer from Malik Pope with 12:42 left, then got the ball back with a chance to inch closer. But Trey Kell missed an open shot in the lane, and Duke pushed to Cook for a 3 — a crushing five-point swing and the start of an 11-0 run that killed San Diego State’s chance to get back in it.
San Diego State: Winston Shepard scored a team-best 13 points. … San Diego State shot 33 percent. … O’Brien scored eight points on 2-for-10 shooting.
Duke: Cook scored 15 points. … Duke made 6 of 14 3-point tries. … Duke scored 18 fast-break points. … The Blue Devils are 34-6 in NCAA games played in their home state and 47-9 as a No. 1 seed.
Duke shot 58.7 percent over its two games in Charlotte, including 16 for 35 (45.7 percent) from 3-point range. The Blue Devils also assisted on 44 of their 64 baskets.
DENYING THE 3
San Diego State had shot an unusually high 22 3-pointers in Friday’s win against St. John’s, making nine. The Aztecs went 2 for 13 from behind the arc Sunday.
“They did a great job denying and pressuring the guards so that it was hard to make certain reads,” senior Dwayne Polee II said. “That’s a credit to their defense. And open ones we did get, we weren’t able to knock down.”
LONG TIME COMING
The matchup was the first between Krzyzewski and Fisher in the NCAA Tournament since the 1992 title game.
Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils — featuring Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill — won that one 71-51 against Fisher’s Michigan team led by the “Fab Five” freshmen. The nearly 23-year gap was the longest between tournament meetings for head coaches in NCAA history, according to STATS.
San Diego State: season over.
Duke: will play Utah on Friday.
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