Williams dominated two games in Greensboro
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- This has gone on too long now. Sure, J.J. Redick deserves all the praise and respect for being one of the two consensus player of the year candidates and the one guy everyone tries to stop when playing Duke.
But the Blue Devils weren't about Redick this weekend as they advanced to their ninth straight Sweet 16 (an unbelievable stat in itself).
If Duke does advance to Indianapolis by winning twice in Atlanta next weekend, it will be in large part because of Duke's "other" star, fellow senior Shelden Williams. Yes, he is a first-team All-American, but he's not the first name that comes up when discussing Duke. This weekend against Southern and George Washington, though, he should have had top billing.
"I think people do tend to forget about him sometimes, but he is an All-American,'' said GW senior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who was ineffective Saturday with three fouls in only 13 minutes on the floor.
Williams finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds (he's now Duke's all-time leading rebounder with 1,249) and seven blocks in 37 minutes. He also was 9-for-9 at the free throw line.
His defense was sensational and it was the reason the Blue Devils made George Washington's halfcourt and fast-break offenses look, at times, like it was October, not March.
"Shelden's presence changed shots," GW's Danilo Pinnock said. "He changes just about everything in the game. He definitely deserves the title as the best big man in the country. He's definitely just as important to their team as J.J. Don't get me wrong -- J.J. is the best player in the country -- but Shelden is the best defensive player."
Williams had 29 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks against Southern on Thursday night, but his play in the opener didn't get much attention because it ended well after midnight. The overall impact of Williams' two performances this weekend, though, was that Duke's defense may have been the best it has been all this season.
"We're playing great right now, and it's because of our defense," Duke senior guard Sean Dockery said. "To have a guy like Shelden who is making people shoot crazy shots makes it more comfortable for us out there."
And it's what Williams does -- blocking shots, or just altering them -- that seems to send a stronger message. He punishes the shooter, often driving him to the court, and then either recovers the ball himself or keeps it in bounds for another Duke player who happens to be in proper position.
"It's embarrassing, because he puts you down on the ground, the crowd goes crazy, and it's a long time getting back up and a long time getting back up court," Dockery said.
"It's really demoralizing because people try to attack him," Redick said. "It's not like he's coming over from the help side. They go right at him. They try to bait him into fouls. He's so good with his point of verticality and his timing."
The Colonials desperately were looking for fouls, but there were hardly any to be found.
"We were supposed to pump fake, but we tried and we didn't get a call,'' said GW's Regis Koundjia.
Williams typically keeps his hands straight into the air, and usually gets the necessary contact to disrupt the shot without being called for the foul. Of course, plenty of opposing coaches and players tend to disagree (see: BC and Florida State earlier this season). But for the most part, Williams knows how to use his body.
"(The opposing team) becomes hesitant, and layups that they normally make are going in and out, and you can see it in their faces," Williams said. "I'm trying to be a presence where I either alter or block a shot.''
Williams, now the all-time Duke shot blocker with 418 (he's also set a Duke single-season record of 134), was just as much of a menace in the post offensively. GW had no answer to stop him from getting the ball and gaining position. Once he had control, he was going up and coverting, getting fouled or creating opportunities for someone else.
So, who is left in the Atlanta bracket that could pose problems? Well, LSU's Glen Davis might be the answer. The fourth-seeded Tigers survived Texas A&M, 58-57, on Saturday. Davis, who scored 21 points against the Aggies and had 22 in LSU's opener, is wide, nimble and has a 300-plus pound base that Williams might have trouble getting around.
"That's going to be a big matchup and Glen's going to go to work," said Koundjia, who transferred to GW from LSU. "You need a big body like 'Big Baby.' We didn't have that."
So, bring on Big Baby. Williams is still craving the physical challenge such a matchup would bring. He wasn't getting anything close this weekend.
"Those are the kind of games I love to play," Williams said. "You can tell by my body that I love to be physical. I'm looking forward to going against him. He can move well for his size. Either way, I'm excited we're moving to the next round.''
And the credit for yet another Sweet 16 trip should be given first to Williams.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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