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Duke wins / December 19, 2013
No. 8 Duke has some new company in the hunt for ACC men’s basketball supremacy, and the Blue Devils will have to continue to mold together as a team in a very challenging new landscape in the conference.

Three ACC teams were ranked in this week’s AP poll, with 10-0 Syracuse no.

2. Duke, which shook off the effects of a long exam break with a workmanlike 85-66 win over Gardner-Webb Monday, is still in the top ten.

But the Blue Devils, now 8-2, face a test against UCLA, which is ranked 22nd in the coaches poll, tonight in New York.

UCLA “is a really good team ... a high scoring (outfit),” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

North Carolina, which met Texas last night, has also jumped to 14th and the Tar Heels are showing a toughness and team chemistry that appear to make this UNC club as tough an out as anyone, on any given night.

The Blue Devils had a stout offensive night against GWU, especially in the first half, shooting 58.8 percent. For the night, Duke shot 50 percent and finished nine of 22 from the 3-point line. Jabari Parker continued his torrid start, scoring 21 points and snagging six boards in 26 minutes. Duke also got a lift from beyond the arc from Andre Dawkins, who hit four of eight treys and scored 18 points in 22 minutes.

The Blue Devils had some rustiness to work through, before they face a high-scoring, dangerous UCLA outfit tonight. Duke usually plays very well in these early season tests in New York, and the Blue Devils need this win if they are going to stay on track for a high NCAA tournament seed.

Duke had another efficient win over GWU, as Quinn Cook also continued to play very well. Cook, who has assumed a stronger leadership role this season, had 16 points and nine assists, with only four turnovers, and added a pair of steals in 36 minutes. Rodney Hood had 15 points in 26 minutes and Duke held GWU to 46.2 percent field goal accuracy in the second half, in a sometimes-lackluster game.

Parker, however, still seeks improvement, particularly on defense.

“It could have been better. That team, we could have limited them to 50 (points) or under. We just didn’t read it right, we didn’t communicate the right way. I think I can do a better job defending, too,” said Parker. “The Michigan game, we were really awake and aware of their players. This game, we kind of let them go their tendencies,” said Parker.

The Blue Devils, who do not play again until Dec. 28, have two more games before the start of ACC play at Notre Dame on Jan. 4.

Pitt, which is unranked, and Syracuse are both 10-0. Wake Forest appears to be better than expected and the Deacons are 9-2 after defeating St. Bonaventure Tuesday, but no one sees that team as one of the top ACC clubs. The league has a busy Saturday, with Virginia, Carolina and N.C. State all in action.

At the moment, it appears to be a Duke-Syracuse tussle to settle the argument as to which school will have the ACC’s best basketball outfit, although North Carolina, now 3-0 against teams ranked in the top ten of the coaches’ poll, will certainly have a say in the final regular season outcome. The Tar Heels, incidentally, only get Syracuse once, while the Blue Devils have to play the Orange home and away.

Duke was sharp offensively, despite the layoff, and GWU also played well on offense early. Krzyzewski also praised the work of two big men, Amile Jefferson (10 boards in 12 minutes and four points) and Marshall Plumlee, who had three rebounds in five minutes.

Dawkins, who is now a graduate student, did not have the stress of exams.

He used the time for extra work and it paid off. Dawkins played well against GWU.

And Krzyzewski also praised the second half defensive acumen of these Blue Devils, after Duke had to get the rust out. “You don’t stop playing for two weeks and not have some slippage.”

Coach K liked the improved defensive communication in the second half, and the Blue Devils played the post well against GWU. Freshman Semi Ojeletye also played well in the post against 6-5 GWU player Jerome Hill.

Duke also won the rebounding battle, as expected, and had 15 offensive boards.

SULAIMON STRUGGLES: Sophomore guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who was expected to be a major contributor on the perimeter, continues to struggle. Sulaimon had just five minutes, went 0-for-2 from the field, and finished with no points or rebounds.

“He’s not playing well. You can see it. It’s not about attitude. He’s got good attitude. He’s a good team player. It’s just not going well (for Sulaimon),” Krzyzewski said.

There are only 200 minutes available for games that do not go overtime.

Parker, Hood and Cook will gobble up almost half of those minutes, so then Krzyzewski and his staff will have to figure out how to distribute the playing time for everyone else.

“We’ve got to stay positive with everybody. It’s a long season,” he said.

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