Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett Lead Duke Past Virginia with LeBron James Watching

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorFebruary 10, 2019

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 09: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots over Kyle Guy #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the first half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on February 9, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)
Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

RJ Barrett scored 26 points and Zion Williamson had 18 points, five rebounds and five assists as No. 2 Duke beat No. 3 Virginia 81-71 on Saturday at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome each scored 16 points for the 20-2 Cavaliers, who fell to 8-2 in ACC play.

Cam Reddish added 17 points and knocked down five three-pointers for the 21-2 Blue Devils, who improved to an ACC-best 9-1 and made 13 of 21 shots from downtown.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and teammate and point guard Rajon Rondo watched the game fresh off their 129-128 win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday. L.A. will play the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon.

     

Williamson-Barrett Duo Is UVA's Kryptonite

Williamson and Barrett scored 57 points (on 21-of-35 shooting) and grabbed 14 rebounds in Duke's 72-70 win over Virginia in January. They accounted for nearly 80 percent of Duke's points and close to half of its rebounds.

Their performance was remarkable on an evening the Blue Devils shot 14.3 percent from three-point range and 58.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Threes weren't an issue Saturday, as Duke went 61.9 percent from long range. But Williamson and Barrett once again showed why they're near unstoppable against UVA.

Williamson didn't have a great night offensively, as he committed five turnovers. But he showed he doesn't need to have offensive outbursts to dominate, as evidenced by his defense.

For the night, he finished with three steals and three blocks. His first steal showcased his impressive awareness and speed, as he split two Cavaliers to grab the ball and coast for an easy dunk:

Tommy Beer of NBC and Rotoworld also praised his work on that end when referencing a first-half block.

"Defensive instincts. Anticipation. The athleticism to make up distance and block a guard's jumper," Beer tweeted. "Folks that say Zion won't be able to defend in the NBA don't understand how important it is for forwards/bigs to able to guard high screens and pick-and-rolls in the league today."

Williamson saved his best defensive moment for a crucial second-half sequence. With UVA down 68-61, De'Andre Hunter found himself with the ball for an open three-pointer. However, Williamson once again showed his remarkable agility with this block:

That's an impressive swat for anyone, but it's especially notable for the 6'7", 285-pound Williamson, whose combination of speed, size and power will suit him well in the NBA.

As for Barrett, his timely three-point shooting once again stymied UVA, which entered Saturday No. 1 in Division I in three-point shooting defense (24.7 percent). He had more points (12) than Virginia (11) after nine minutes and was 5-of-5 from three-point land at one juncture.

Duke led from wire to wire thanks to a comfortable advantage to start from Barrett. UVA did cut the lead to four, but the Blue Devils kept a two-possession edge at minimum through the end of the game.

When Barrett is hot, the Blue Devils are invincible against any opponent, including a Cavaliers side that looks like one of the country's best three or four teams. He scored 33 points on 13-of-26 shooting against Kentucky and added 32 points on the road against Florida State.

Together with Williamson, they may be the whole country's kryptonite.

             

Duke Proves Why It's NCAA's No. 1 Overall Seed

On Saturday morning, the NCAA selection committee revealed what the top four lines of the NCAA Division I men's bracket would look like if the season ended Friday. Duke, Tennessee, Virginia and Gonzaga were the top four seeds, in that order.

With a strong win over the Cavaliers on Saturday, Duke showed why the committee made the right choice.

The Blue Devils have now beaten the NCAA's third overall seed twice. One of their two losses came against the No. 4 overall seed on a neutral floor. Blue Devils starting point guard Tre Jones suffered a shoulder injury after six minutes in the second loss, a 95-91 defeat to Syracuse in which Barrett and Jack White combined to shoot 8-of-40.

Otherwise, Duke entered Saturday with the second-highest scoring margin in Division I, which was done against the 21st-ranked strength of schedule. And Duke ranked second in the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings and first in the Sagarin ratings, respectively.

Duke should jump No. 1 Virginia on the Pomeroy list, and now, it's hard to envision any team beating the Blue Devils. Per Pomeroy, they are one of two squads ranked in the top five in offensive and defensive efficiency, with the other being UVA. They are led by Williamson, who Josh Planos of FiveThirtyEight called the best player in "at least a decade."

The Blue Devils did lose to Gonzaga earlier this season, but the young Duke squad has grown much since then. The Zags are a great team, but they also don't have to go through the ACC gauntlet that Duke does.

We'll see if a rematch occurs in the NCAA tournament, but looking at the whole body of work and its current form, Duke is the nation's clear No. 1 team and should stay that way heading into March Madness.

                                 

What's Next?

Duke remains on the road for a matchup with No. 16 Louisville on Tuesday. Virginia visits No. 8 North Carolina on Monday. 

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