No. 1 Duke's rally falls short in loss to Gonzaga: What we learned

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Duke's unbeaten record this season and in Maui ended at the hands of Gonzaga. (Marco Garcia)

It's a pretty impossible standard to live up to when you're labeled unbeatable after your first game of the season. Such was the situation for Duke after that immolation of Kentucky at the Champion's Classic.

Just today, ESPN was prominently featuring a video on its website where former Blue Devil Jay Williams was arguing that this year's team could beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. The merits of his argument aside, that kind of hyperbole is eventually going to come back and bite you, even if you're not the ones propagating it.

The Blue Devils are of course beatable. We know that now because that's exactly what Gonzaga did on Wednesday, 89-87, in the championship game of the Maui Invitational.

Sure, RJ Barrett may have been fouled on that last possession, but it's how we got there that was so improbable.

For most of the game, Gonzaga cut the Blue Devils defense to ribbons with their offensive execution -- off the ball-screen, off dribble drive, pretty much any way you can run an offense. They not only generated open shots, but they also made them. And when the shots weren't open, they made those ones too.

Rui Hachimura is brilliant and for about 35 minutes was the best player in a game chock full of top ten draft picks (4 missed free throws late in the game notwithstanding). Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr., and the supporting cast play their roles to a tee.

Only down the stretch did Gonzaga falter. The No. 3 Bulldogs (6-0) missed four free throws to give Duke a final shot, but Brandon Clarke blocked R.J. Barrett's drive on the game's final play and a putback attempt was knocked away.

Down 15 in the second half, there didn't seem any way back for Duke. For most other teams, there wouldn't have been.

We learned Wednesday that this team has no quit in it. If they were going to, this would've been a game to do it. Instead, they fought back ferociously. Thirty minutes of jump shooting was replaced with 10 minutes of relentless rim attacks. Duke's athleticism is breathtaking and we saw that again down the stretch.



You never want to lose and I'm not going to pretend today was a good thing for Mike Krzyzewski's group. That said, I think the Devils passed a test Wednesday. Left for dead, they didn't accept that it wasn't their night. They looked like a team who thinks every night should be their night.

Perfection in Maui is no longer a thing for Duke. Perfection this season can be put aside as well. These guys are mortal after all. They can now spend the rest of the season showing that they're just highly superior mortals when it comes to playing basketball.

Gonzaga, meanwhile, beat a No. 1 team for the first time and ended Duke's unbeaten streak on the Valley Isle (17-1) with its second Maui Invitational title.

Barrett had 23 points and Zion Williamson scored 22 for Duke.

The Associated Press contributed.
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