NEW YORK — In the aftermath of Dukes 74-64 win against Alabama late Wednesday, Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant had high praise for Jabari Parker.
Hes probably, in my eight years as a head coach, the most talented freshman Ive seen just from his size, his physicality and his skill level, Grant said. Hes able to make tough shots and free himself for the open shot, and hes able to get himself to the free-throw line.
Parker equaled his career high with 27 points against the Crimson Tide. Per usual, he was exceptionally efficient, hitting 9-of-10 shots after he missed his first two. Parker also led Duke with eight rebounds, marking the fourth time in seven games that he has led Duke in both categories.
He is also the first freshman since Kevin Durant to open his college career with seven games featuring 20 or more points.
As Grant pointed out, though, Duke has other players around him who turned in strong performances, too. Matt Jones came off the bench and made back-to-back 3-pointers that keyed a 15-3 run and gave the Blue Devils a 17-15 lead they wouldnt relinquish.
Jones finished with 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting, three rebounds, a steal and turnover in 18 minutes.
Quinn Cook was Dukes second-leading scorer and rebounder with 17 points and four rebounds and played all 40 minutes.
Defensively, the Blue Devils turned in arguably their best effort of the season. Duke forced a season-high 16 turnovers, 10 of which came via steals (also a season-high) and four others from drawn charges.
Thats how Parker prefers it, that the focus isnt just on him. Hes already tired of the media attention he and the other highly touted freshmen are receiving. After the game, he was asked three questions about himself all three were turned into answers about the team.
I just do whatever I have to do for my team, he said in response to the third question. Like I said, its for my teammates. They give me open looks and all the things you dont know.
So far this season, the offense has worked best with Parker as the centerpiece a fact thats unlikely to change Friday against No.4 Arizona (6-0). The Wildcats will present a stiff challenge for the Blue Devils, on many fronts.
With a frontcourt consisting of 7-foot sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski, 6-8 sophomore forward Brandon Ashley and 6-9 freshman forward Aaron Gordon, the Wildcats present a physical challenge for any team, especially one that plays without a true post presence and a pair of 6-8 forwards.
Arizonas starting backcourt consists of junior transfer T.J. McConnell and junior Nick Johnson. McConnell is a pass-first point guard and Johnson leads the Wildcats in scoring.
Still, Arizona isnt perfect, and that was clear in the first half of its Wednesday game with Drexel. Ten turnovers, zero assists and 6-of-23 shooting had the Wildcats trailing 29-20 at the break, which was an improvement from the 27-8 hole with which they opened.
Its November, the season just a few games old, so its to be expected that teams are still finding their way. Through seven games, though, its obvious Duke will go as Parker goes.