National player of the year candidate Zion Williamson missed his third consecutive game on Saturday.
The Duke freshman forward, recovering from a sprained right knee, did not play in Duke’s 87-57 win over Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The 6-7, 285-pound Williamson injured his knee during Duke’s 88-72 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 20. He has a mild (grade one) ligament sprain and is going through a methodical rehabilitation schedule to ensure he is 100 percent healthy before returning to play.
“Without putting any pressure on him, he’s getting better,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Saturday. “There is no time pressure on him. We’ll just see where it goes. But he’s getting better.”
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Though Williamson has yet to go through a full-contact practice, he is doing some on-court work.
“He hasn’t done anything with contact, but he’s moving really well,” Krzyzewski said. “Contact makes you do things you don’t think about. You have to pass that phase. We’re not in any hurry. The other thing with Zion, he’s an exquisite athlete. Not like -- there aren’t people like him, athletically.
“So he has to be 100 percent so that -- his body has always responded instinctively to how his mind and heart feel. His body then, we’ve seen it. You can’t put him out there with any less than that. You cannot. You cannot. And we won’t. We won’t. But it’s getting better.”
Averaging 21.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocked shots per game, Williamson is projected as the No. 1 pick in the June NBA Draft my many analysts.
He’s missed Duke’s 75-65 win at Syracuse on Feb. 23 and the Blue Devils’ 77-72 loss at No. 20 Virginia Tech last Tuesday.
No. 3 Duke (25-4, 13-3 ACC) plays its final home game of the season is Tuesday night against Wake Forest (11-17, 4-12 ACC).
They close the regular season at No.5 North Carolina (23-5, 13-2) on March 9 at 6 p.m.
“We aren’t playing our best basketball right now but we are going to go out really energized and really hungry trying to get back to how we usually play,” Duke freshman guard Tre Jones said Friday, “and whenever it is that Zion comes back, we just want him to get healthy and when he does come back we know what he can bring to the table so it will take off even more from there. But until that time is, which we don’t know yet, we’re just going to keep playing how we know how we can play and come back even stronger.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils picked up their 25th win of the season without Williamson.
“I think we are obviously a different team right now with Zion out but I think we are finding some pieces and we’re growing a little bit,” said Duke sophomore guard Alex O’Connell, who has entered the starting lineup in Williamson’s absence. “Once Zion comes back, which we are hoping is sooner rather than later, we want him to be 100 percent healthy when he comes back so he can be as dominant as he’s been this season. It just shows that once Zion comes back we are going to be a stronger and deeper team which is important come tournament time.”