Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
12/22/2006 01:35:00 AM
The New (And Bloody) Paulus
Greg Paulus had a career-high 20 points in Duke's win over Gonzaga on Thursday.
NEW YORK -- How much can one player metamorphosize in the course of a month? For Duke point guard Greg Paulus, the fearless kid who scored 21 points and committed just one turnover in a 61-54 win over Gonzaga on Thursday -- hustling so hard that he nearly knocked himself out cold diving into a press-row table -- a lot changed in a month.
The last time a national TV audience saw Paulus in a neutral-court showdown against a ranked team, it was ... well, ugly. He fouled out of a 73-62 loss to then-No. 16 Marquette in the finals of the CBE Classic in Kansas City on Nov. 21. His stat line read seven points, six turnovers, and just four assists, while his adversary, Dominic James, stole the show.
That, we've now been informed (by Coach K), was the old Paulus. The old Duke, even. On Saturday, when Mike Krzyzewski gathered his team for its first practice after a finals-week layoff, he told them, "Now the season starts. That was your first practice." Nevermind that 10 games -- nine wins, one loss -- were in the books. That was a mere warmup. The message was directed squarely at Paulus, whom K said has had "a hell of a fall" -- in a bad way.
Paulus' freshman year -- in which the nation's No. 1-ranked point guard recruit was hoping to help lead seniors J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams to a national title -- didn't have a happy ending. The Blue Devils crashed and burned in the Sweet Sixteen against LSU, largely because Redick was held to 3-of-18 shooting, but Paulus also struggled to a 2-of-8 performance, fouling out with seven points. And this, his sophomore year, did not have a pleasant beginning: He broke a bone in his left foot in just the second practice of the preseason, recovering in time to play the opener three weeks later. With the foot mending slowly, and a mono-like sickness sapping his health, Paulus rarely showed signs of having a breakout sophomore season, averaging 6.8 points and 3.8 assists in his first 11 games.
Duke fans are hoping what happened against Gonzaga -- exactly one month after the Marquette loss -- will be the birth of a breakout. Coach K went as far as to say that it was the best game of the Syracuse, N.Y., native's career. With the entire, nine-person Paulus clan on hand at Madison Square Garden, along with a contingent of hometown folks approximately 50 in size (one toting an ESPN sign reading (we're) Excited Syracuse Paulus Fans) their favorite son helped the sixth-ranked Blue Devils do what rival North Carolina could not: beat the 22nd-ranked Zags at the World's Most Famous Arena.
While the defensive efforts of Josh McRoberts (on Josh Heytvelt, who scored just 10 points) and DeMarcus Nelson (on Derek Raivio, who was suffocated to four points, 16.3 under his average) were huge, Paulus performed three vital tasks for Duke. First, he managed to keep them in the game in the opening period, when the Blue Devils shot 22.6 percent as a team. Their three top scorers entering the game -- McRoberts, Nelson and Jon Scheyer -- were a combined 3-of-17 in the first half. Paulus hit two 3-pointers and dished out two assists, and Duke went into the break miraculously trailing by one point, 21-20. Second, he played a near-flawlessly in crunch time, committing zero second-half turnovers and scoring on a give-and-go from McRoberts to open up a six-point lead with 56.1 seconds left. And last, Paulus controlled the tempo of the game, keeping it at a low pace that allowed Duke to survive with a shallow roster (just six deep, with the starters and David McClure) rather than be exhausted by Gonzaga's offensive prowess. Said Zags coach Mark Few, "That was definitely more of a grinder game than we have been in [the rest of the season]."
Paulus defining moment in his "career game" was neither an assist nor a bucket. Apropos of his scrappiness, it was a near-disastrous dive into the media row opposite of the Gonzaga bench. While trying to save a ball he had deflected on D at the 14:54 mark in the second half, Paulus slid under the press table, with his head hitting the shin of a reporter (we have the "exclusive" that it was ESPN.com's Andy Katz, who's currently listed at day-to-day). Paulus' chin was gashed open by the edge of the playing floor, and he lay on the sideline, bleeding, for a couple of minutes. Scheyer's reaction, upon running up to the fallen Paulus, was simply, "Oh, sh--!"
After leaving the game for one minute and six seconds (the only time he sat all night), Paulus returned to a standing ovation and then assisted on two of the Blue Devils' next three field goals. Krzyzewski joked in the post-game press conference that the cut on Paulus' chin, which was by then covered by a sizable Band-Aid, made his point guard "better-looking."
Whether it was from the blood, or the guts, or the stat line, the Paulus we saw on Thursday was unquestionably better.