Utah upsetting Duke 77-75 in overtime Saturday afternoon isn’t a totally shocking outcome — until you realize what the Utes did in the process of scraping out the win over the seventh-ranked Blue Devils.
For starters, the Utes’ win over Duke marked the first time in program history Utah defeated a team ranked No. 5 or better at KenPom.com. (The vital stat and ranking website began tracking tempo-free data in 2001.)
So that alone marks a banner win.
But also consider the unlikely way Utah got the victory: defensively. What happened at Madison Square Garden was unquestionably an ugly and sloppy affair, but get a load of this: Duke entered Saturday No. 1 in offense in the country, pacing itself to 120 points per 100 possessions. Utah’s points-per-possession defense ranked 116th.
Yet the Utes held Duke to 30 percent shooting. The Blue Devils went for the deep ball often but only connected on 8 of its 28 3-point attempts. Forcing Utah — a talented offensive team in its own right — to 19 turnovers kept Duke alive. Duke wasn’t at full strength; senior forward Amile Jefferson is out indefinitely with a foot ailment.
Duke should have probably taken the game in regulation. The second half saw an aggressive see-saw effect. The Blue Devils trailed Utah 42-33 with 14 minutes left. Then came the Duke run, an 18-2 flurry that got Duke up 51-44 with just over nine minutes to go.
Utah then countered with its own 14-3 run. Duke managed to take the lead back, and a Kyle Kuzma layup for Utah with 1:50 to tied the game at 60. The teams didn’t score for the remainder of regulation.
Utah almost blew it, holding a six-point lead with seven seconds left in OT. A turnover on an inbounds play by the Utes gave the ball to Duke with six seconds remaining. But freshman star Brandon Ingram misplayed a move in the paint, and his finger roll fell wrong. Utah held on for the 77-75 win.
It’s the first loss for Duke to an unranked team since it was felled by Temple on Jan. 4, 2012.
Kuzma led Utah with 21, while sophomore sensation Jakob Poeltl had 19 points and 14 rebounds. Luke Kennard led Duke with 24 points, 10 of which came in OT.
Duke’s losses this season have now come to Utah and Kentucky, two teams that should have expectations on reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. It’s not a damaging loss for the Blue Devils, though it does open them up for consideration as perhaps the fourth-best team in the ACC. North Carolina defeated UCLA on Saturday, and Virginia handled Villanova. Miami is 8-1, very talented and loaded with experience.
So we’ll see on Duke. There is some growing to do there for the reigning national champs.
For Utah, the win on Saturday validates its place in the Pac-12 conversation. The Utes could wind up being as good as anyone else in that league. Larry Krystkowiak’s guys are now 9-2 with its losses come against Miami and at Wichita State. Neither of those are bad. If the defense can pattern itself off what it did to Duke, this will wind up being the best team in the Pac-12.