Zion Williamson is “doubtful” for Duke’s regular-season finale at North Carolina on Saturday night as he continues to recover from his injured right knee, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Friday.
“He had his first really good workout yesterday,” Krzyzewski said, “but not contact, and looked really good. I haven’t seen him today, we’ll see how he is. He’ll have no contact again today. So I would say he’s doubtful for tomorrow, but we’ll put it out tomorrow.”
So No. 4 Duke will face No. 3 UNC Saturday night at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill with the 6-7, 285-pound freshman forward’s status still very much in doubt, although Krzyzewski reiterated he expected Williamson to play in next week’s ACC tournament regardless.
“The way it’s going, he’s not going to be doubtful for the tournament,” Krzyzewski said.
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Williamson injured his knee 36 seconds into UNC’s 88-72 win over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 20 when his left shoe ripped as he made a pivot move.
He didn’t return to that game and missed Duke’s next four games. In addition to losing to UNC, the Blue Devils (26-4, 14-3 ACC) went 3-1 without Williamson, who averages 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Examinations of his injured knee showed no structural damage and he was diagnosed with a grade one (mild) sprain. He entered a four-step recovery process and advanced to the final step last Sunday. On Tuesday, he progressed to on-court work for the first time since the injury.
That night, after Duke edged Wake Forest 71-70 in the final home game of the season, Krzyzewski said it wasn’t likely that Williamson would play against UNC but said he’d be surprised if he wasn’t ready for Duke’s first ACC tournament game on March 14 in Charlotte.
Williamson has made good progress this week.
“Yesterday was a big day for him, though, because he didn’t think before he moved,” Krzyzewski said. “All of the sudden you say, `Oh yeah. I remember my body can do that.’ For the guys too it was uplifting. But still we have to make sure, man. We’ll know more after today. We’ll have our shoot-around early in the morning. We’ll give final word after that. It will be out by 11 (a.m.).”
When Williamson suffered his injury in the rivals’ first meeting, neither team had scored. UNC dominated Duke inside once Williamson left the game, scoring 62 of its 88 points in the paint.
Senior forward Luke Maye finished with 30 points and 15 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who scored on 24 layups and three dunks as a team that night.
“With or without Zion, we can’t do that,” Krzyzewski said. “We have to somehow limit the number of points they score right by the basket. And the fast breaks, second shots, we have to try to do that. We did not do a good job with that. Obviously Zion got hurt right away, still we should’ve done a much better job of that. If Zion doesn’t play, we’re working on it. We’re working on it. We’re working on it even if he did play.”
This week, the coaching staff showed the players video from the first UNC game, particularly the first eight to 10 minutes when the Tar Heels built a quick 20-9 lead. Krzyzewski said the message was that everyone plays a role in improving Duke’s defense against UNC, not just the interior players like Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier.
“It wasn’t just the big men’s fault,” Krzyzewski said. “It was our fault. Our fault as a staff. In other words take responsibility. We’re not going to beat them if our big guys play well. We have a chance to beat them if we play well, if we coach well, if we have poise.
“So I’m looking forward to the game whether Zion plays or not, because we have an incredible opportunity to play in that environment against a great team. If you go in there with the right mindset, you’re going to find good things. Hopefully you find a win too, but you’re going to find good things.