Published January 08, 2015
East Rutherford, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - A schedule peppered with top-notch competition continues on Thursday for the second-ranked Duke Blue Devils, as they take on the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies in a neutral site affair at the IZOD Center.
Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils already have marquee victories over the likes of Michigan State (81-71) and Wisconsin (80-70) on their resume and are sitting at a flawless 9-0 overall. Duke was last in action on Monday, as the team posted a 75-62 victory over Elon to extend the nation's longest current non- conference homecourt winning streak to an astounding 114 games.
Kevin Ollie's Huskies have failed to live up to last year's run to the national championship as the team has gotten off to a slow start at just 4-3 overall. UConn was able to get some distance however, from a rather shocking loss to Yale (45-44), with Sunday's 106-85 blasting of Coppin State.
These perennial powers are meeting for the 10th time in history, with this being the first head-to-head confrontation in five years. Duke holds a narrow 5-4 series advantage thanks to a 68-59 victory at Madison Square Garden in 2009. UConn's 1999 national championship came at the expense of Duke, in a 77-74 thriller.
The Huskies' 106 points against Coppin State were by far the top total on the season for a team that hadn't scored more than 75 prior to that.UConn's Amida Brimah was absolutely unstoppable in the victory, going a perfect 13-of-13 from the floor and 14-of-16 from the free-throw line to finish with an eye- popping 40 points. The sophomore 7-footer completed a double-double with a game-high 12 rebounds to boot. Senior guard Ryan Boatright had a strong outing as well, netting 22 points, while Kentan Facey and Daniel Hamilton finished with 15 and 11 points apiece. Hamilton also recorded a double-double by doling out 11 assists.
That kind of offensive eruption has not been the norm for the defending champs, as UConn comes into this contest averaging a modest 68.3 ppg. Boatright has been sensational as the team's primary playmaker. He currently leads the team and the American Athletic Conference in scoring at 18.9 ppg. Despite a team-high 100 field-goal attempts, Boatright has also found the time to lead the team in assists (4.1 apg). Brimah is tough to move out of the middle, as evidenced by his strong .698 shooting percentage. The big man ranks second on the team in scoring at 13.7 ppg. Hamilton rounds out the top scoring threats on the UConn roster with 12.1 ppg.
Duke has its own dominant 7-footer on the roster, and although the team didn't perform at peak form collectively against Elon, freshman Jahlil Okafor destroyed the Phoenix to the tune of a career-high 25 points and a freshman- record 20 rebounds. Duke shot an impressive .518 from the floor in the game, but allowed Elon to hang around with a strong second half. Three other Blue Devils joined Okafor in double-digit scoring. Amile Jefferson was 6-of-17 from the floor and finished with 13 points. Justise Winslow added 12 points to the cause, while Rasheed Sulaimon finished with 11 off the bench.
Duke has excelled on both ends of the floor this season and hasn't shown many weaknesses at all. The team ranks first in the nation in scoring margin at +28.6, netting 87.6 ppg, while allowing just 60.7. The scoring deluge comes courtesy of the nation's second-ranked field-goal percentage (.539). Okafor has certainly lived up to his billing as the nation's top recruit, shooting an efficient .655 from the floor and putting up team-highs of 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Senior guard Quinn Cook provides perimeter support at 14.3 ppg, while Winslow (12.0 ppg) and Tyus Jones (9.8 ppg, 5.6 apg), two other touted freshmen, give the team even more depth.