Just when No. 4 Duke is getting back one starter, it will enter the postseason without another.
Duke lost 79-70 to No. 3 North Carolina Saturday night at the Smith Center and lost starting center Marques Bolden to a sprained MCL in his left knee a little less than three minutes into the game.
“I don’t know the degree, the level one, two or three,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know that. But it’s not an ACL. So that’s good for that kid.”
While an ACL injury certainly would have ended Bolden’s season, the MCL sprain still leaves his status in jeopardy for the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
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While the 6-11 Bolden is likely out, Krzyzewski expressed more confidence that 6-7 freshman star Zion Williamson is ready to return to play in Duke’s first ACC tournament game on Thursday.
“I think we’ll get Zion back for Thursday,” Krzyzewski said.
Williamson has missed Duke’s last five games after spraining his right knee during an 88-72 loss to UNC (26-5, 16-2 ACC) on Feb. 20.
He returned to practice in non-contact drills last week and went through a shoot-around on Saturday. He is expected to take part in a full-contact, 5-on-5 practice on Monday.
“Hopefully we’ll get a couple good days of practice where he can play 5-on-5 and we’ll see how that goes,” Krzyzewski said. “But the way he looks right now, I think it’s just a matter of getting in shape, getting in game shape and going forward.”
Williamson, a national player of the year candidate averaging 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, was injured 36 seconds into Duke’s first loss to UNC when his left shoe ruptured on a pivot move. He suffered a grade one (mild) sprain and hasn’t been in uniform for Duke’s final five regular-season games.
The Blue Devils (26-5, 14-4 ACC) were on a nine-game winning streak prior to his injury and went 3-2 in the games when Williamson was out of uniform.
Duke will be the No. 3 seed for the ACC tournament and next plays Thursday night in a quarterfinal game scheduled to start at 9 p.m. at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. The Blue Devils will face either No. 6 Syracuse, No. 11 Boston College or No. 14 Pittsburgh.
Bolden started 21 of Duke’s 31 regular-season games, averaging 6.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He leads Duke with 55 blocked shots.
Williamson’s return, though, will give Duke a major boost even if Bolden is out. Even while playing five fewer games, Williamson is second on the team with 48 blocked shots.
“These guys will react quickly, it depends on how Zion, his shape,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it will happen real quick.”
Duke enters the postseason having lost only one game -- an 89-87 setback to Gonzaga on Nov. 21 in Maui -- when it had all its starters available.
Cam Reddish was out with an illness and Tre Jones suffered a shoulder injury when Syracuse beat Duke 95-91 in overtime on Jan. 14. Williamson played just 36 seconds in Duke’s two losses to UNC and also missed Virginia Tech’s 77-72 win over the Blue Devils on Feb. 26.