How did Arizona beat Duke?

Arizona Wildcats players celebrate during their NCAA West Regional college basketball game against the Duke Blue Devils in Anaheim, California March 24, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Derrick Williams played a nearly perfect first half, and then his supporting cast played a nearly perfect second half.

It’s really that simple.

If not for Williams, Duke might have blown Arizona out in the first 20 minutes. The sophomore forward went 8-for-11 from the field (5-of-6 from 3PT) for 25 points to go along with six rebounds, three steals and a block. That’s all in a half, people. Not a game. A half. His deep three as time expired cut the Duke lead from nine to six, and gave Arizona some momentum heading into intermission.

One category that coaches and statheads both look at is offensive efficiency, which is the number of points per possession that an offense scores in any given game. Since each offensive rebound starts a new possession, one stat I like to look at is the number of points per trip. In the second half, the Wildcats scored 55 points on 35 trips, or 1.57 points per trip. The sign of a good offense is generally 1.0 point per trip, so Arizona’s work in the half was nothing short of outstanding.

Arizona missed just 16 shots in the second half (making 21), but gathered 12 (twelve!) offensive rebounds, so along with three turnovers, the Wildcats only had eight scoreless trips in the second half. That means that they scored on 27 of their 35 (77%) trips in the final 20 minutes. That’s a truly an amazing half of basketball.

Arizona made nearly all its open shots and hit several tough leaners and fadeaways that aren’t typically high percentage shots. They took care of the ball — remember the aforementioned three turnovers — and made every correct decision when Duke’s defense came over to help or trap.

That said, Duke still had a chance to make a run with about six minutes to play. The Blue Devils cut the lead from 14 to 11 and forced an Arizona miss, but Nolan Smith couldn’t convert a semi-tough layup to get the lead under 10. Had that shot gone in, the pressure would have been back on the Wildcats, and the game might have been tighter at the end. But it didn’t fall and Arizona went on a 5-0 run to push the lead back to 16. Wheels off. Game over.

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