Duke Freshmen Pound Kentucky in Opening Night Victory

    INDIANAPOLIS – Now, Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t just own John Calipari on the recruiting trail. When Krzyzewski landed arguably the top three players in the

    November 7, 2018

    INDIANAPOLIS – Now, Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t just own John Calipari on the recruiting trail.

    When Krzyzewski landed arguably the top three players in the Class of 2018, fans of opposing bluebloods made it known that national championships weren’t claimed via recruiting victories.

    Let’s face it: If they were, Calipari would have more than one ring.

    Sure, it’s just one game. But it was one hell of a statement for the young Blue Devils to make in the season-opener under the bright lights of an NBA arena and countless NBA executives in attendance.

    Coach K had to be smiling behind closed doors after this one, because he literally beat Calipari at his own game, with a trio of likely one-and-dones, in which he proceeded to hand Calipari the worst loss of his 26-year college coaching career.

    Final score: 118-84.

    The top-ranked player in the land, R.J. Barrett, was the alpha dog on the court, dominant in virtually every fashion – attacking and finishing around the basket, knocking down shots from beyond the arc and also pushing the ball in transition and setting up his teammates.

    Barrett finished with 33 points and six assists.

    Zion Williamson, known for his freak athleticism, showed he was far more than just a human highlight film. Sure, he displayed his high-flying antics in which it often appears as though he is jumping off a trampoline – but also made perimeter shots.

    Williamson went for 28 points.

    Cam Reddish was a little more subdued in his performance, but still went into the break in double-figures and showed flashes of a guy who many NBA execs feel as though has the highest upside of anyone in college basketball.

    Reddish checked out with 22 points.

    The trio combined to score 83 points when they came off the floor with a little more than two minutes remaining.

    Duke had 80.

    “When I looked up with eight minutes to go, I said, ‘We’re not calling a timeout and if you foul, I’m taking you out of the game. Let this thing run,’” Calipari said after the loss.

    “We weren’t surprised how much we were winning,” Barrett said.

    This was just the third time that K and Cal have met on the court since Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009. Duke beat UK in Atlanta in 2012, the second year of the annual Champions Classic. The Wildcats knocked off Duke in Chicago in the event three years ago.

    Off the court, it’s been all K of late. Calipari has long been regarded as the king of college hoops recruiting, and rightfully so since he took John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to Lexington in his first season at the helm. He’s been the most feared recruiter in the country – without peer.

    However, Krzyzewski has turned the tables – at least for the time being. He beat Calipari for Barrett, Williamson and Reddish, and has also won head-to-head battles recently against Cal for Marvin Bagley III, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Gary Trent Jr., and Marques Bolden.

    Again, it’s just one game. But it was hard not to be impressed with the dismantling that occurred on Tuesday night in Bankers Life Arena. Barrett can say he wasn’t surprised, but no one saw this coming. Duke wound up extending its lead to 31 points with 14:30 left on a pretty pass from Williamson to Barrett that resulted in a three-point play.

    It was a complete beatdown in every facet.

    The only player who truly looked as though he belonged on the floor with Duke’s star-studded cast was Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson – who finished with 23 points. Calipari pointed to his team’s lack of defensive pressure, and just four turnovers committed by a freshman-laden Duke team. But Krzyzewski has four frosh who are all capable of handling the ball.

    “Their effort and fight was embarrassing,” one NBA general manager told Stadium of Kentucky. “They gave up in the first half. The game was literally over by halftime.”

    “Watch tape, learn from it,” Calipari said. “Boom. Move on.”

    “I haven’t lost any faith in these guys,” he added.

    Unlike a couple of its predecessors, this Duke team looks as though it enjoys playing with one another. They share the ball. Maybe it’s because K’s favored son, Grayson Allen, has departed Durham and there’s no jealousy or divide. Or maybe it’s clear that this team is led by the frosh – which also includes point guard Tre Jones (6 points, 7 assists, no turnovers in 33 minutes). Guys like veterans Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White and Alex O’Connell are the supporting cast.

    No, this Duke team won’t run the table, not even in the ACC, and it’s far too early to give these youngsters some scissors to cut down the nets in Minneapolis come April 8.

    Settle down.

    The last time the Champions Classic had seen a performance quite so convincing came in the same city four years ago when Kentucky was on the delivering end of a 72-40 thrashing of Kansas.

    That Wildcats team didn’t let up, winning 38 consecutive games.

    Then it lost to Wisconsin in the national semifinals.


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