Blue Devils turn back Santa Clara with 90-77 victory

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 29, 2012 

— Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says it’s fitting the Blue Devils’ team poster has the word “Fight” on it.

The top-ranked Blue Devils have been in a few this season. They were in another one Saturday.

The Devils now are 12-0 after a 90-77 victory over Santa Clara at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But it was a brutally tough battle from start to finish, and it took 31 points from senior guard Seth Curry, 22 points and 13 rebounds from senior center Mason Plumlee and some gritty defensive work to get the job done.

“That was like a February ACC game,” Krzyzewski said. “It was a really good win for us. Our guys played their hearts out. It was a big-time physical game.”

The Broncos (11-3) had never beaten a No. 1 team and not played one since 1999. Add to that the fact the Blue Devils had won 100 straight games at Cameron against nonconference teams.

But Santa Clara, which worked out Friday at UNC’s Smith Center, came into Cameron with six straight wins, with a veteran team led by senior guard Kevin Foster, who burned the Devils for 29 points.

“They’re men,” Krzyzewski said of the Broncos, who have three senior starters. “They’re a man’s team. They had a chance to beat us.”

The Devils led 25-14 in the first half. But Foster kept making shots – scoring 18 points in the period – and Duke also missed seven of 14 free throws as the Devils eased to a 38-36 halftime lead.

“We should have scored 50,” Krzyzewski said. “But we had a hard time stopping them.”

In the second half, the Broncos had a hard time stopping Curry. His 31 points were a career high at Duke, topping his 26-point game against N.C. State last season.

Santa Clara led 45-41 after a backdoor dunk from Foster with 16 minutes, 29 seconds left in the game. But Curry then scored 12 of his 18 second-half points to spur a 21-3 Duke run that ended with the Devils ahead, 62-48, with nine minutes to play.

Curry’s three-pointer capped a five-point possession after the Broncos’ Yannick Atanga was called for intentionally elbowing Plumlee in the face, giving Duke a 49-45 lead. Curry followed with another 3 about two minutes later, then began attacking the basket off the dribble as the Devils opened a 17-point lead.

“We had to get some stops, then we were able to get out and get some easy buckets,” Curry said. “We also executed real well in the half-court down the stretch.”

Curry, clearly feeling it on the offensive end, closed 12-of-18 from the field. Plumlee, meanwhile, rather quietly topped 1,000 points for his career, becoming the 61st Duke player to reach that mark.

Duke finished with a 40-28 rebounding edge in the game -- senior Ryan Kelly with a season-high 11 boards -- and scored 23 points off Santa Clara’s 14 turnovers. The Devils also limited the Broncos to just nine assists.

“We kept fighting,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “Obviously playing against Duke, you have to come out with aggressiveness. You have to come out fighting.”

The Blue Devils, who face Davidson on Wednesday, now have beaten Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State. Those were signature victories and Krzyzewski is both pleased and proud of his team’s work – this season and against Santa Clara, a good, solid West Coast Conference team.

“I have no illusions of grandeur (that) we’re this perfect team,” he said. “But we’re good. You keep getting in fights like this and you get better. My team has fought.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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